Category Archives: Curiosities

1930s Chenille Bathing Suit Cover-up Cape

During a recent lucky streak, I ran across this fantastic cape, which is a bathing suit cover-up.  It is made from machine-made chenille, a fabric that started out as the product of a cottage industry in northern Georgia.  Based around the town of Dalton, Georgia, home workers began making hand tufted bedspreads to sell to travelers going south on the newly finished Dixie Highway.  A local textile mill, Crown Cotton, provided the base material, which is a heavy muslin-type fabric.  By 1910 the homeworkers were setting up stands along the highway to sell to the growing tourist travelers.

In 1917 a manufacturing process was set up. and some of the tufting was done by machine.  Hand tufting was still being done, but it was increasingly mechanized.  At first the product was just bedcovers, but by the 1920s some garments, such as bathrobes and beach wear, were also being made.

I can remember seeing the bedspread stands as a child traveling to visit relatives in the far western reaches of North Carolina and on the road to Atlanta.  Some of the designs were quite bizarre – wildly colored peacocks spring to mind.  And occasionally a stand can be spotted even today, but for the most part, the chenille factories converted to carpets years ago.

I can’t say a lot about the origin of the cape.  There is a small, handwritten label, that looks more like a collections number than anything else.  Could this cape have been in a collection before becoming a part of mine?  It is possible.

I do have two more chenille garments, one a bedjacket and the other a shorter cape.  None of them have  makers labels of any kind.

The neckline is gathered with a cotton robe tie.  There is an extra row of red chenille for decoration.

The back of the gathering.

I don’t have any photos showing a chenille cape, but I did find this jacket.  It is dated July 1939, Mountain Lake, New Jersey.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Southern Textiles, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

The Easy Way to Design Fabric

You “borrow” designs from people who know what they are doing.

I know some readers must think I’m beating a dead horse whenever I make a post like this one, but it honestly astounds me every single time I run across a print that is so obviously copied.  In this case a cheap line sold at Target had a print that is based in part on a Liberty of London print, Ianthe.  The classic Liberty Art Nouveau print, Ianthe was developed over one hundred years ago.

fake

real

 

This is even more interesting because Target actually did a collaboration with Liberty of London five years ago.  This piece is not part of the joint venture, as those pieces were clearly marked Liberty for Target.

And while most clothing designs cannot be copyrighted in the United States, fabric prints are subject to copyright protection.  Of course that does not mean copying does not happen, as we have seen many, many times.

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Ad Campaign: Lovable Bra, 1951

To be honest, this post is not so much about the ad than it is about discovery.  In this case, it is the story of my discovery of the Lovable Brassiere Company of Atlanta, Georgia.  And while I’m not a collector of lingerie (though I do have a few pieces in my collection) I’m always interested in a good story about the clothing industry.

It started when I found this book Woman in Atlanta, at my local Goodwill Outlet.  How could I not love the photo on the front?  And I knew that co-author Susan Neill used to be a fashion and textiles curator at the Atlanta History Center, so I put the book in my shopping cart.  As it turns out the book was an outgrowth of an exhibition at the museum in 2004, Gone with the Girdle, an exhibition I had seen and loved. There are photos of some of the clothing in the exhibition along with 150 years of photos of the women of Atlanta.

Courtesy of the Ida Pearle and Joseph Cuba Archives of the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum

While I loved seeing all the photos and learning much about Atlanta history, one photo stood out – this image of workers of the Lovable bra factory in Atlanta, circa 1940.

Established in Atlanta by Jewish businessman Frank Garcon in 1914, Lovable Brassiere Company became “the world’s leading producer of popular priced bra fashions.”  Beginning in the 1930s, Lovable fully integrated its factories and lunchrooms.  The company was progressive for its wages as well; workers received $9 per week, $4 above the national average.  Lovable’s marketing was aimed at both white and black consumers, though all the advertising featured white models.

For those not familiar with the Jim Crow South of the early to mid twentieth century, that might not seem like such a big deal.  But consider that in many places having black and white workers together in the same workplace was just not allowed.  In South Carolina, usually the only black workers at textile mills were outside workers such as the men who loaded trucks.  One of the excuses made for not hiring Blacks was that white people would not work along side them.  Mr Garcon proved that wrong by paying a higher than average wage.  I had to know more about Mr. Frank Garcon.

A big obstacle to internet searches for old companies is that they often have a common word as the name of the company.  Searching “lovable” brings up all sorts of odd links, but knowing the name of the owner and the place where the company was located really helps narrow things down.  In this case, I was able to find out quite a bit about Frank Garcon and Lovable, but there are still plenty of unanswered questions.

Frank, who was a native of Poland, met and married his wife Gussie (from Austria) in New York City.  The couple moved to Atlanta where Frank found work in the undergarment industry.

Many of the online sources I found date the founding of Lovable to 1926 instead of the 1914 stated in my book. It’s not possible that Garcon started the business in Atlanta in 1914 because the move to Atlanta did not happen until after son Arthur was born around 1916.  It’s likely that the firm that Frank worked for was started in 1914 and that Frank did not acquire it until 1926.  This is conjecture on my part.  The answer is probably in the Breman Museum archive, which has oral histories from the Garcon family.

This led me to do a trademark search for Lovable.  Interestingly, the US Trademark database lists 1932 as the beginning of the use of the Lovable trademark, and it lists the owners as Frank and Arthur Gottesman.  Ancestry.com revealed that Frank Gottesman changed his name to Garcon at some point after 1940.  Arthur was the oldest son of Frank and his wife Gussie.

Lovable remained a family business with son Dan taking over from his father, and his son Frank II after him.  They company maintained a cutting factory (with the sewing being done in Central America) in the Atlanta area until it closed in the late 1990s.  Things went bad for Lovable in 1995 when Walmart, their largest customer, changed the terms of their agreement, which made it all but impossible for Lovable to make a profit.  They closed in 1998.

Even though the details of the Lovable Brassiere Company seem to be somewhat sketchy, one thing is for sure.  Frank Garcon was able to look past the accepted social “rules” in order to do the right thing.  That’s a really nice legacy for a company to have.

 

 

 

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Hart Schaffner & Marx Style Book, 1909

I usually don’t buy items that are concerned strictly with men’s clothing, but I’m sure you’ve guessed that I was seduced by the cover image of this little catalog from men’s suit and coat maker, Hart Schaffner & Marx.  They call it a style book, as it was not strictly a catalog.  I’m guessing that men’s stores mailed these to customers, as this came with the original envelope.

There are several things that I found interesting about this little booklet.  First, the cover image is more of a life style statement than an indication of what HS&M has to offer. There is no sportswear at all in the style book.

The second interesting thing was the use of women in the booklet.  I’ve looked at hundreds of catalogs that are selling only women’s things, and I can’t remember there ever being men just hanging out in the illustrations.  Sometimes there are children, and an occasional pet, but not men.  But in this little style book for men, women are used, mainly as background props.

Here we have not only the dear old mother cooking a turkey for her sons, we also have a kitty prop.

Here’s one that was a bit unexpected: a woman rabbit salesperson.

I can’t figure out if the woman in this photo is the man’s wife, or merely an admirer.  Perhaps she’s eavesdropping, trying to find out if the man is buying a toy for his son, but hopefully, a nephew.

There’s no doubt about this one.  He’s the man of the house, and there’s the nanny holding the heir.

Even nuns were utilized as background props.

Care about dress and appearance is not a small matter; the clothes illustrated here are made for the man who cares to be correct.

Mother has strayed and is busy looking out to see while father minds the heir.

Not all of the illustrations used women as props.  Here we see the faithful, but sleepy canine companion.

And I saved the best for the last:  a bell-ringing Santa Claus.

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Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing

Dolley Madison’s Red Velvet Dress

This past week my husband and I traveled to Greensboro, North Carolina, for a bit of vintage shopping and to visit the Greensboro Historical Museum.  I’ll write more about the museum later because today I want to focus on one particular exhibit – that showing some personal items of First Lady Dolley Madison.  For those of you not in the USA, Dolley was the wife of our fourth president, James Madison.  She was a very popular figure during her time in the White House, and North Carolinians are proud to claim her as a native daughter.

Dolley was born in Guilford County, near Greensboro in 1768, though her family moved to Virginia when she was a child. In 1794 she married politician James Madison who became president in 1809.  During his presidency the US and Britain went to war in the War of 1812.  Things went badly for the United States, and in 1814 the British captured Washington, DC, and burned much of the city including Dolley’s home, the White House.

In August of 1814, President Madison had left Washington, leaving Dolley in the city with orders to leave if the British got close.  When it became apparent that the city was going to fall into enemy hands, Dolley had the staff tear down the red velvet draperies, newly made from silk velvet from France.  The presidential china and silver were wrapped in the velvet to cushion them, and then a portrait of President Washington was removed and sent to New York for safekeeping.  Dolley sent the wagon containing the silver and china on to safety, and then she fled the city.  Hours later the White House burned.

Eventually the United States did win the war, and Dolley was hailed as a national heroine.  Unfortunately she was left in poverty after her husband died in 1836.  She was forced to sell the Madison plantation, Montpelier, and later, her husband’s papers, in order to survive.  She died in Washington in 1849, leaving her possessions to her son and to her niece and companion,  Anna Payne.

Several years later Dolley’s son held an auction of many of her personal items.  Anna Payne bought as many of the items as she could, which then were passed down through her family.  The last of the line was her granddaughter-in-law, who died in 1956.  After her death, a trunk containing the Dolley Madison items were found in her attic of her house in Pennsylvania.  A group of women from Greensboro who called themselves the Dolley Madison Memorial Association traveled to the auction of the granddaughter-in-law’s estate and purchased the trunk.  It and the contents were donated to the Greensboro Historical Museum in 1963.

In the trunk was a red velvet dress that dates to the 1810s.  Instead of being made of thin dressmaking velvet, the fabric is a heavy-weight fabric of the type used for draperies.  I’m sure you have figured out by now that many historians and museum workers have speculated that the dress was made from the curtains that were saved that day in August, 1814.  And it makes sense, as surely many of Dolley’s dresses were destroyed in the fire.

The problem has been in trying to prove the theory.  The DAR thought they had a scrap of the fabric from the draperies, but examination under a high-powered microscope proved that the scrap was not very worn velvet, as they had assumed, but was a satin weave.  That eliminated the possibility of comparing the two fabrics as the DAR piece could not have come from the draperies.

There is quite a bit of documentation concerning the fabric of the draperies.  We know it was red velvet from France.  We know it was saved from the fire.  We also know that Dolley held onto the dress throughout her life.  But we do not know if the dress was indeed made from the famous fabric.

The original dress. Photo copyright Smithsonian Institution

Today, the Greensboro Historical Museum no longer displays the original dress as it is much too fragile.  A reproduction was made in 1988, and the original was put into storage.  It was loaned to the Smithsonian for a special show, and when it was returned to Greensboro, it was put on display for several months.  It now rests in its specially made storage box, away from view.

Some of the original items are on view, including a pair of white satin slippers, a card case, and two glass perfume bottles.

There is a fantastic video that was made for C-SPAN, narrated by the curator at the museum, Susan Joyce Webster.  It really is so great, and has Webster showing the original dress and pointing out the details.  It’s seventeen minutes well-spent.

This dress is also a reproduction.  It came to the museum through a great niece in 1950 and was not part of the Madison treasure trunk that was found in the attic.

If you watch the video you will see just how close this treasure came to being lost.  Considering all the twists and turns of the story, it is really quite amazing that the items were found and saved.

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Filed under Curiosities, Museums, North Carolina

1920s Printed Velvet Stole

The thing that keeps collecting old clothes interesting is that there is always something new that one has never seen before.  This stole is a good example.  The textile is a printed velvet, and the print looks like it is from the 1920s.  The problem is, I’ve never seen nor heard of evening stoles being used in the 1920s.  The black reverse side is a deep, plush velvet as well.

I’m still not sure what to make of this piece, and would appreciate any and all opinions and insights.  The tie you can see actually wraps around a button, which is wood covered in the black velvet.

I generally don’t acquire things of this nature, but I loved the print and truthfully, the price was too good to turn down.  And I’m always up for a good mystery!

UPDATE:  A good friend sent a French fashion illustration dated 1920 that shows a similar stole being worn as part of a cloak.  The patterned fabric IS the lining, as most of the commenters suggested.  Thanks to Lynne for coming through once again!

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Currently Reading: The Mountain Artisans Quilting Book

Mountain Artisans shows just exactly how important timing is in business, and in life in general.  After President Johnson declared war on poverty in 1964, there were dozens of agencies set up to implement hundreds of programs that were meant to help the poor.  Mountain Artisans was started by a worker in the arts and crafts department of the Department of Commerce, Florette Angel.  Ms. Angel was in West Virginia to help a group of quilters figure out how to market the projects they were making using traditional quilting skills.

It was a good time to be starting a crafts cooperative.  Not only was there the Federal assistance that sent Ms. Angel to the quilters, it was 1968, and interest was increasing in alternative lifestyles such as the back-to-the-earth  movement.  The American Bi-centennial was coming up in 1976, and interest in history and heritage were growing.

Even so, the project got off to a rocky start.  Interestingly, there was money to spend on studies of impoverished people and how they could make money, but there was no money to pay for needed craft supplies.  All the young women who were working to start the business had no experience and they were working without pay.

Help arrived in the person of Sharon Rockefeller, whose famous name helped open doors.  She put the group in touch with the famous Parish-Hadley decorating firm, which arranged for meetings in New York, including one with Diana Vreeland at Vogue.   Through Vreeland, Oscar de la Renta ordered some of the fabric being pieced by the women in the co-op.  The group was on its way.

They also benefited from some excellent press coverage.  Whoever was in charge of public relations did a fantastic job, getting a feature in Life magazine, and mentions in Newsweek and New York Magazine.  The Associated Press and United Press International regularly distributed features on the co-op.

Dorothy Dembosky Weatherford, a local artist, donated her talents as a designer, and her work led to a distinctive Mountain Artisans style.  She liked big bold blocks of color, much in the style of the late 1960s and early 70s.

By 1972 the co-op was a success, and Weatherford won a special Coty award that year for “reviving native handicrafts.” According to an account from the AP in 1972, there were 160 full time quilters, with an additional 60 working part time.  Total sales for the previous year had been a half a million dollars.  A showroom was planned for New York.

Sharon Rockefeller wearing a Mountain Artisans skirt

The success of the group is nicely documented in this book by Alfred Allen Lewis.  Published in 1973, it is a book typical of the time, with the story of the co-op intertwined with directions for making projects based on those of the Mountain Artisans.  I’m not so sure how easy it would be to actually follow the directions, but there are lots of photos of the quilters sitting and sewing along with diagrams showing the design and construction process.

The clothes, which were mainly floor-length “hostess skirts”, were sold in high-end stores including Saks Fifth Avenue, Joseph Magnin, and Neiman Marcus.  The co-operative also made patchwork pillows and quilts.  These items occasionally come up for sale today, and they are easily identified because they are labeled.

Quilt made for the Rockefeller baby

In appreciation for all the support she had given them, the group made a quilt for Sharon Rockefeller’s first baby.  Designed by Weatherford, it was not the average baby quilt made from sweet pastels.  I’ve got to wonder if the Rockefellers still have it.

Dorothy Weatherford experimented with modern-looking variations of old quilt themes.

The early 1970s were an interesting time.  People were discovering traditional handicrafts such as quilting, knitting, and sewing, and there was a definite Little House on the Prairie vibe going on in fashion.  The women running Mountain Artisans were wise to capitalize on this interest.

But fashion changes, and the homespun look died with the passing of time.  After July, 1976, interest in “tradition” waned, as Americans discovered the pleasures of disco.  Mountain Artisans closed in 1978.

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