Category Archives: Curiosities

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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Wes-Mor Sure-Grip Shoe Cleats

If you have been reading The Vintage Traveler for a while you know that I’m a collector of women’s sportswear.  But I also am always on the lookout for items that relate to clothing and sports, but don’t really qualify as garments.  The Wes-Mor Sure-Grip Shoe Cleat falls into that category.

If you are ever bored, spend an hour or two on the Google Patents site.  Some of the oddball ideas will amaze and delight.  And what is fun is to actually find a product like mine that has the patent number right on the box.  Talk about making research easy!

Knowing this product was protected under patent number 2103472 led me straight to the patent and the accompanying drawings from the inventor, John Lascari.  He filed for the patent in  July, 1937, and the patent was granted in December of the same year.

According to the patent:

This invention relates to a shoe cleat and more especially to a device designed to be attached to boots, shoes or the like, to prevent slipping or sliding upon slippery surfaces such as those of ice or wet floors.

An object of this invention is to provide a device of this class which may be readily attached on, or detached from, the sole of a shoe when desired.

To test out the claim of “may be readily attached on, or detached from, the sole of a shoe when desired,” I tried the cleats on a pair of my own shoes.  I had my doubts, as the metal piece seemed to be quite stiff, but as you can see, the cleats worked perfectly.

In an era when most people could not afford to have special shoes for golf or hiking, this was a clever solution to the problem of smooth soled shoes.

Because the patent date is printed on the box, we know that the cleats cannot be dated to before early 1938.  The illustration of the woman on the box seems to show clothing from the late 1930s or early 40s.  There was a trademark application made for Wes-Mor by the Morrone Mfg. Company of Westerly, Rhode Island.  According to that application, the name Wes-Mor was first used in 1945.  I have found, however, that the “first used” date on trademark applications is often incorrect, as it is so often based on the applicant’s memory of something that happened years earlier.  So, my guess on the date is 1939 through 1945.

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White Stag Tyrolean Style Jacket

This great jacket ticked off several boxes on my things to look for when adding to my collection list.  Vintage White Stag – check.  Tryolean inspired garment – check.  Great color combination – check.  Interesting historical detail – check.

It’s not often that I get such a solid confirmation of the date of a garment, but here it is.  And even more interesting is the ability to put this jacket in a specific time and place.  So many times the garments I find have been entirely divorced from their histories.  And while I don’t know the name of the woman who wore the jacket, I do know about its place attachment.

Wheaton College is in Illinois, and it has a long history of supporting social reform.  It was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and enrolled both black students and women in a time when such was rare.  Wheaton was established in a time when many schools of higher learning were founded by religious organizations, and Wheaton retains its Christian focus to this day.

I’ve written before about the interest in Germanic clothing styles in the years leading up to World War II.  I even have another piece from White Stag that shows this trend.

White Stag has its beginnings in a canvas tent company owned by Max and Leopold Hirsch and partner Harry Weis.  When Max’s son Harold Hirsch returned home from Dartmouth College, he brought back his love of skiing, which was just catching on as a recreational sport.  The company began producing ski clothing in 1929, and in 1931 the line was named White Stag, the English translation of Weis Hirsch .

The Germanic roots of this jacket are obvious.  One could wear it to Oktoberfest today and fit right in.

There are several questions I’d like to ask about this piece.  Did White Stag make the jackets specifically for Wheaton college, or was the discovery of the jacket by someone at the college a happy accident.  Are there others, or is this just one girl’s project?  Could these have been for a club?

Here’s one more little special detail.  The pockets are lined in red.  The label is from the United Garment Workers, which was the union for people making ready made tailored products like coats and suits.  I’ve got to wonder if that number can be traced in any way.

I found this great piece through the weekly VFG feature, Fresh Vintage, where members share their latest finds that are for sale.  This jacket came from Amy at Viva Vintage Clothing.

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Mountaineering in Short Skirts, 1904

I recently ran across these two prints that are dated 1904.  To someone who knows about fashion in the early twentieth century, this would seem like a very improbable skirt length for the time.  But they reminded me of the words of outdoorswoman, Annie Smith Peck, who wrote in 1901:

“…Men, we all know, climb in knickerbockers… Women, on the contrary, will declare that a skirt is no hindrance to their locomotion.  This is obviously absurd, and though a few ladies have climbed mountains like the Matterhorn in extremely scanty and abbreviated skirts, I dare assert that suitably-made knickerbockers… are not only more comfortable but more becoming… A scant skirt barely reaching the knee and showing the knickerbockers below, such as some ladies have worn, is as ungraceful a costume as could be devised; and for a woman in difficult mountaineering to waste her strength and endanger her life with a skirt is foolish in the extreme.”

While these pictures seem to show the women in leggings rather than knickers, the outfit is pretty much as Annie described it.

The imaginary women in the prints are also shown as if they were wearing corsets.  What did Annie have to say about that?

“It may not be necessary to add that no one should climb mountains or even hills in corsets.  One must have the full use of the lungs, and the loosest corset is some impediment to the breathing.  As ordinarily worn they are impossible.  Moreover, they greatly increase the heat, impede circulation, and promote rush of blood to the head.”

Images of women participating in sports were popular in the early 1900s.  Artists like Coles Phillips and Howard Chandler Christy were known for their sporty, but still very feminine, women.  This artist seems to be sexualizing the women somewhat, with the posing and the slender legs.

I think the signature is T T Pollock, but I could not find a reference to that name, nor to Polleck.  Maybe someone will recognize it for me.

No skirts for Annie!

Update:  Researcher extraordinaire Lynne has discovered that the artist was Homer Polleck, though some references have his name as Pollock.  He lived and worked in Kansas City, Missouri, and died in 1917.

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