Category Archives: Gymnasium

Columbia Gymnasium Suit Company Blouse

I rarely buy incomplete garments, but this one was rare enough to make an exception.  I didn’t feel too bad about the bloomers being missing, as I do have several pairs from the same era.

I wasn’t able to locate much about the Columbia Gymnasium Suit Company. Most of the sources were ads in women’s colleges’ newsletters and in sports magazines. The earliest reference I have found is from 1909, but I’m quite sure my blouse is a bit older than that.

The company also made bathing suits, and I found one suit labeled “Columbia Bathing Suit Co.” It was pretty much identical to the Columbia gymsuits I found online.

The addition of this second label helps to narrow the date a bit. The National Consumers League was chartered in 1899, which you can read on the label, in the circle. I’ve seen several Columbia gymsuits with this label in online collections, several being dated to before 1899. Even museums make mistakes!

I’m quite sure that my blouse is from around 1905, or possibly a bit earlier. You see the styling of the typical blouse of that era, with the blousy front and slightly gathered sleeves.

The waist buttoned to the bloomers, the waistband of which would have covered the brown cotton facing that holds the buttons. The buttons are made of glass.

The opening in in the front, with hook and eye closures on the shoulder, and a line of buttons running diagonally to the waist. These are concealed by the deep tucks.

Like many gymsuits and bathing suits made before 1920, this one is made from wool. It’s a very light, open weave wool, but terribly scratchy. Girls must have loved it when cotton became the favored fabric of gymsuit makers.

There is a modern Columbia Sportswear Company. I could find no connection between the maker of my blouse and the current company.

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Filed under Collecting, Gymnasium

Moore Gymwear, 1968

I have a nice little collection of gymsuit catalogs dating back to 1940, but this new-to-me catalog is not only the latest, it is from the year I bought my gymsuit as a seventh grader in junior high. Six years later, as a senior, I was still wearing it, and I’m still waiting on that last growth spurt.

The cover is interesting in that it makes a stab at racial diversity.  Considering that US Vogue did not have a Black model on its cover until 1974, I’d say good for Moore. Inside the catalog, the “models” are mostly white blondes and redheads, but this is still a good step forward, as the 1965 Moore catalog has no girls of color.

I love how the catalog designer used Op Art to show how “hip” Moore gymsuits are. Considering that the only persons who actually used the catalog (at least at my school) were the gym teachers. I imagine the only reason they looked at the catalog was to see the price of the same suit they have been ordering for years.

And here is my suit, the Waist Hugger. You can see it sold to schools for $4.35, which meant someone at the school made .65 on each suit they resold to the students. As I remember that mine cost $5.  So .65 times 150 girls meant a profit of $97.50 every year.

I wish our suits had been this nice blue. Ours were white, which meant one had to be careful about the underpants she wore on gym day. The suits were thin enough to see through, especially after a few year’s wear.

I guess I shouldn’t complain as it could have been worse. We would have really hated these bloomer legs.

This style, the Matadora, was “smasheroo news” when it was introduced in 1961. It looks a bit dated for 1968. Gymsuits aren’t high fashion, of course, but to a teenage girl, looking current is important.

There were two dresses with bloomers styles, the type my mother said she wore in school in the 1940s. I think I would have liked this one, as we could have pretended it was a mini dress. But NOT in white, please.

There were several pages of gym clothes for the teachers. This kilt was to be worn over the gymsuit for when teachers had to leave the gym. Even in 1968 girls and women teachers were not allowed to wear pants on campus, and certainly not shorts.

Look at all these great colors. So why were we forced to wear white? It seems like a mean trick to me.

There was a brochure included with this catalog, titled, “The Psychological Effects and Benefits of a Color and/or Style Change in Uniform Gymwear”.  It seems as if getting girls to spend $5 on a new and different gymsuit each year was good for them.

As a side note, I have quite a few gymsuits in my collection, ranging from Victorian styles to the late 1970s. I started buying when I found them years ago, when I could guy a great example for a few dollars. Today, there seems to be a fad for them, if the prices on etsy and the posts on Instagram can be believed. One girl’s misery is another’s cute outfit.

I’ve written a lot about gymsuits over the years, and I’m always rewarded with women sharing their own experiences with this garment, mostly negative. I’m not surprised.

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Filed under Gymnasium, Sportswear

Getting Exercise at the Biltmore Estate

One of the things that amazes visitors to Asheville’s Biltmore Estate is the size of it. As a kid of twelve years visiting for the first time, I could not believe that this was the country home for three people. What was not explained back then was that it was home to the George Vanderbilts, but also a “hotel” for their friends, family, and acquaintances. Visitors to the estate were common, and many of the bedrooms were set aside for them.

The house was finished in 1895, and it was located way out in the country outside the very small city of Asheville. For people used to New York and Newport I can imagine that visitors wondered how they would spend the time at the estate. What would they do?

In planning Biltmore, Vanderbilt took this into consideration. He built a large library for the book lovers, and there were walking trails – eventually as far as Mount Pisgah which was fifteen miles away. He also built an indoor recreation area.

The gymnasium had been a popular idea for several years. Doctors and educators had begun to see the importance of exercise as a structured activity. But Vanderbilt’s gym area was not all work. He also had a two lane bowling alley.

It would not have been appropriate for the men and women at Biltmore to go traipsing around the house in their exercise attire and bathing suits, so a line of changing rooms was built between the bowling alleys and the indoor swimming pool.

It’s pretty much impossible to get a photo of the pool that shows it properly. It is in a tiled and vaulted room, with the deck built around three sides. It’s a large space, but feels a bit claustrophobic, as the walls are so close to the pool. If the tilework looks a bit familiar to those of you in New York, that is because it was designed by architect Raphael Guastavino, who worked extensively in New York, and designed many of the early subway stations.

There was once an outdoor swimming pool, which has been filled in.

The gym had some basic exercise equipment like the rowing machine above, but it was mainly an area for free exercise. On the wall you can see a row of “Indian” pins or clubs, which an exerciser used to swing around and build up the arms.

Or one could workout on the parallel bars, or use the wooden dumbbells located on the wall. There are even two showers.

This image is from an 1895 book, Artistic Work and Gymnastic Games by Henry S. Anderson and Stanley Schell. I love the thought of women thus attired in the Biltmore gym.

 

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Filed under Gymnasium, Museums, North Carolina

1920s or 1930s Barefoot Dancing Sandals

People who have never attempted to sell online seem to have the idea that it’s an easy way to make a buck. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Selling old stuff online is hard for many reasons, but I’m only going to address one of them. And that is that there are so many old things than even experienced sellers run across objects they look at and just scratch the head in puzzlement.

The seller of the shoes above listed them as circa 1900 leather bathing shoes. I knew that was not correct, but what exactly are they? I could see why the seller thought they were bathing shoes, as they really do resemble them in some ways, but I’ve never heard of them being made of leather. After seeing the listing several months ago I forgot about the shoes, but the purchase of a 1929 gym attire catalog revealed the identity of the mystery sandals.

Of course that started a mad scramble to try and re-find the listing, but I had not bookmarked it, and so I was just out of luck. Or so I thought. Last week as I was searching for bathing shoes, these popped up again. Three clicks and they were mine.

The story is made even happier because I have a very similar pink and white gingham dancing romper as illustrated in the catalog, right beside the dancing sandals.

The dancing sandals look rather sad without feet to fill them out. I am so glad I spotted these and was able to add the proper context back to the object.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Gymnasium, Proper Clothing, Shoes

Update: 1920s Gingham Romper

I posted my thoughts about this 1920s romper back in June. One of the things I wrote was this:

So rompers definitely were a thing for women, at least in the 1920s and 1930s. Still, I don’t agree with calling a gym suit a romper, no matter how much the garment is similar.

But then last week I found a real shocker in a 1926 high school yearbook.

These are the girls of the Gainesville Athletic Club at Gainesville High School in Florida. Could it be these were the actual basketball uniforms? It is hot in Florida, so maybe they adapted the usual bloomer suit into a light cotton garment.

I do need to make sure you notice that the suits are not identical, though they do seem to be made from the same fabric. And what’s with those belts?

It does pay to keep an open mind when it comes to the past. The minute we start saying “never” and “always” we run into trouble.

I also want to give a big thank you to all the kids over the past one hundred years who worked tirelessly on the yearbook committee. I don’t collect yearbooks, but anytime I run across an older one I always thumb through it to see if I can spot anything interesting. This time I was really rewarded.  Along with several yearbooks dating from the 1920s through the 40s, someone donated a series of photograph albums from the same years to Goodwill. It all ended up in the bins, and while I didn’t buy any of it, the guy who put them in his cart kindly let me photograph some really great photos.

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Filed under Curiosities, Gymnasium, Proper Clothing, Rest of the Story, Sportswear

1920s Gingham Romper

About a year ago I went on a rant over how some vintage clothing sellers and buyers have changed the vocabulary of certain garments in order to made them seem more versatile. In particular I was irritated about the use of the word “romper” when the object in question was obviously a gym suit or a bathing suit. I even went so far as to say that women did not wear rompers, that the romper is a garment for a baby or a toddler.

I never like being wrong, but when I am it pleases me that my fellow fashion history lovers care enough to set me straight.  After posting the rant I got an email from Lynne (otherwise known as the best online researcher I know) that contained a 1920s sewing pattern for a woman that was clearly labeled a romper. She also sent along a photo of a very similar garment she has in her own collection.

Properly corrected, I then set off to find an example for my collection.  Last week I finally was able to add the one seen above. There is no doubt this is a garment for an adult, and it is also apparent that this is an outer garment, not lingerie.

Notice that there are snap closures on both shoulders and another on the front of the neck.  This made it easy for the wearer to put on the romper by stepping into it and pulling it up.

The tie belt sits on the top of the hips, giving a proper 1920s silhouette.

The inside legs and the crotch are shaped with the use of a wide gusset. There is elastic in the legs, but it is old, crunchy, and it no longer stretches. I’ll not replace it, but if this ever goes on display some new elastic can be inserted along side the old.

The shoulders have those handy little lingerie strap holders that prevented that embarrassing bra strap slip-up.

I’m quite sure this romper was made at home rather than purchased. The construction is very good, but there are a few places where alterations were made while the garment was being made. There is also quite a bit of hand-stitching.

I tried to locate the photos Lynne sent to me, but failed. I did find an example of a Butterick sewing pattern for a romper in a post at Witness2Fashion. It was included in a feature of costume party patterns. I located another, very similar one from McCall Patterns. 

So rompers definitely were a thing for women, at least in the 1920s and 1930s. Still, I don’t agree with calling a gym suit a romper, no matter how much the garment is similar. In fact, my romper here looks to be a direct descendant of my circa 1915 gym suit.

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Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Curiosities, Gymnasium, Sportswear, Summer Sports