Category Archives: Proper Clothing

How I Collect

One question I get a lot of is do I ever display any of my collection. The answer to that is, “No,” as I’m a collector, not a museum. But it did occur to me that if I were displaying my collection, I’d want to show it the way I collect. By that I mean that I don’t collect piecemeal, but rather, I collect as if assembling ensembles that might have actually been worn by a woman of the era.

I’ve been slowly taking photos of these ensembles and posting them on Instagram, but as I know many of you do not take part in social media, I thought I’d post them here as well. First up are clothes and accessories from 1915-1919.

Above is a 1918ish bathing dress. I bought it years ago in a local antiques mall that had it labeled as a child’s victorian dress. Nope.  There were no knickers, but that’s not a problem as I have several pairs of wool knickers from the same era. The cap was an eBay find from about 2007.  I can’t imagine finding one today. The boots also came from eBay, at about the same time. The Ayvad Water Wings came from the collection of a kindred spirit.

This is what the well-dressed post-Edwardian woman wore for tennis. The middy blouse was made by the  “Jack Tar Middy” brand. When I found it I was not sure the heart-shaped smocking was original to the piece, but I later found an ad showing the smocking. The sports skirt is unlabeled, and it has very deep pockets that are perfect for tennis balls. The boots are Keds. I need a hat.

The skirt and sailor blouse were another lucky eBay find from about twelve years ago. I think it was seamstress made, especially with the hand embroidery in dark blue. The hat is labeled “New York Hat Works” and has silk ribbons and a silk covered button on top of the crown. The handbag is linen fabric embroidered in silk and is most likely homemade.

This outing ensemble is one of my favorites, and as a special thanks to you Vintage Traveler readers, this one has not yet been posted on Instagram. This set started with the skirt, which was a gift some years ago from friend Amanda in Vermont. Like the twill cotton blouse, it is unlabeled. The rucksack was a lucky Goodwill find. It’s from Abercrombie’s Camp. The gauntlet gloves are stamped, “The Buccaneer by Speare” and I found them at a flea market. And again, I need a hat.

I’ll be posting more as I get them photographed. Next up are the early 1920s.

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The Fall Hat Box, 1911, Muhlfelder’s of Albany and Troy, New York

After buying the little purse catalog that was shaped like a purse, how could I resist a hat catalog shaped like a hat box? And even better, this little booklet proves to be a memento of an important event in a woman’s life – that of her wedding.

The owner of the booklet recorded the date of the wedding…

along with her new name and address.

This is a very good clue that Mrs. Klee’s first name was Rose, and the 1930 census provided a record of George and Rose Klee living in Troy. The 1940s census has George and Rose still living at 2231 Burdett Avenue in Troy with their son, daughter and son-in-law, and granddaughter.

On another page is the name Rose Ney. And yes, this is the same Rose, as Ancestry.com has her as Rose Ney Klee, born in 1890. There is even a photograph of Rose.  Rose lived to be 96 years of age.

Rose got married in the era of the huge hat. Think Titanic or My Fair Lady. I hope she had a suitably large hat for her wedding.

Muhlfelder’s was established by Jonas Muhlfelder, a German-Jewish immigrant. He worked in the wholesale millinery business in Albany before setting up his own stores for ladies around the turn of the twentieth century. The Albany Institute of History and Art has a fantastic photo of the millinery department of the Albany store.

Veils were for mourning, and also for motoring.

Most of these hats required not only a big pile of hair, but also a very long hat pin. Still, looking at photos of women in hats of this era makes me wonder how they balanced it all. It must have been a big relief to pull out the pin and place the hat on its stand.

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Filed under Advertisements, Proper Clothing

Bathing Suit Timeline

A recent project has been developing a timeline of bathing suits from the 1860s through the 1920s. From looking at the sales pages and such on the internet, it seems to me that such a timeline might be useful to people trying to place a date on older suits. I’ll be adding to what I’ve got here and will eventually make a permanent page on my long neglected Fuzzylizzie.com site.

For now, here’s a chronological view of sixty years of bathing suit styles, with date and source, but no commentary.

1864, Godey’s Lady’s Book

1865, Godey’s Lady’s Book

 

1871, Harper’s Bazar

 

1876, Harper’s Bazar

 

1881, Harper’s Bazar

 

1885, Harper’s Bazar

 

1892, Harper’s Bazar

 

1895, Le Bon Ton & Le Moniteur de la Mode United

 

1902, Sears, Roebuck Catalog

 

1909, McCall’s

 

1911, Woman’s Home Companion

 

1912, Greenhut-Siegel Cooper Catalog

 

1917, Von Lengerke and Antoine Catalog

1918, The Delineator

 

1921, B. Altman & Co Catalog

 

1925, Bonwit Teller Catalog

 

I’ve chosen to end with the mid 1920s, as after that date there are many more resources for dating, and I want to use images that are firmly in the public domain.  You can see there are some gaps, and I’m working on at least an example from every five years or so.

Putting bathing suits in a timeline really shows how fashion was followed, even in the water.

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Filed under Proper Clothing, Summer Sports

Currently Reading: What Clothes Reveal

It’s been a while since I shared a book I’ve been reading, but I’ve picked a real winner to recommend this time. What Clothes Reveal by Linda Baumgarten is considered to be a classic in eighteenth century clothing studies. Yes, I know the eighteenth century is far beyond my usual subject of twentieth century sports fashion, but it never hurts to widen one’s knowledge base. And while the book is based on Colonial Williamsburg’s Colonial and Federal era clothing collection, it’s really more an book on how to read the clues contained within historical clothing.

As expected, there are lots of pretty pictures of exceptionally pretty garments. But this is not the story told in What Clothes Reveal.

What we are given is a look at and inside of clothes from all walks of life; clothes for the rich and the poor, the young and the old, male and female, enslaved and free.

I found Baumgarten’s writing about clothing that has been altered to be of real interest. She pointed out that most of the garments in the Colonial Williamsburg collection have some kind of alteration. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Altered clothing confirms and illuminates the written record of how people lived with their clothes.Each garment has a different story contained within the threads and fibers themselves, allowing modern onlookers to peer into the lives of those who wore items over many years and who adapted to constantly changing life situations. Altered clothing shows how people related to their own histories and reveals that continuum in the present, allowing people today to share in the history.If a pristine garment is a valuable snapshot of a person, places, or time, then an altered garment is a motion picture that tells another compelling story worthy of careful preservation.

Baumgarten has illustrated her book not only with pictures of garments, but also with the historical references that show similar garments as they were worn. It’s a great example of how history is actually practiced by historians.

Does she look familiar? This is Anne Shippen Willing, whose portrait was featured in another book I’ve reviewed here, Portrait of a Woman in Silk, by Zara Anishanlin.  The textile was designed by Anna Maria Garthwaite, and Colonial Williamsburg has a very similar design on a silk panel from a skirt (supposedly owned by Martha Washington).

Have you ever wondered how Lucy Locket managed to lose her pocket? In the eighteenth century pockets were separate items and were tied around a woman’s waist under her petticoat. Lucy’s knot must have slipped.

For many of the garments illustrated, we are treated to multiple views, including closeups of the textiles. This circa 1810 gown was made from a block-printed cotton.

The book ends with a very useful timeline which shows the changes in fashion from 1690 through 1835.  It’s a lot to absorb, but is a great reference.

There’s a lot of information within the pages of What Clothes Reveal, and a lot of big ideas,  but I found myself totally caught up in each and every page. The book is so readable and free of jargon that the concepts were clear even to a person who is not that familiar with pre-twentieth century clothing.

I think I appreciated this even more than usual because I had just finished reading Cubism and Fashion, by Richard Martin who had been the curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The language was so ponderous that I found myself rereading paragraphs (dictionary in hand) just so I could understand what he was saying. I find that many of the Met’s exhibition catalogs suffer from the disease of pompous language. In an age where museums are striving to become more relevant, it would help if the average reader could understand the language being written.

 

 

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1970s Pants Set by Stephen Burrows

A big part of my goal in developing my collection is to show when and how and what types of pants were being worn by women. The pair above shows one of the last hurdles women leaped over in the quest for bifurcation – pants as evening wear. In the 1950s women were wearing at-home evening ensembles, often with a long, open skirt over a pair of slim pants. But even in the late 1960s, the day of the tunic pantsuit, women were often denied entrance to restaurants when wearing pants. There are many stories floating around about women who stepped out of their pants and then were allowed to dine wearing only the tunic.

But just a year or two later, things were changing. Designers and fashion magazines were showing pants specifically designed for a night out.  Pants had clearly crossed the finish line, though there are plenty of instances of women being denied the right to wear pants even today.

The set above is by Stephen Burrows, who gained fame as a designer in 1968 when he was given a boutique space withing Henri Bendel, Stephen Burrows World. In 1973 he went independent with his own business and label. My set dates to that second period.  It was during this period of Burrow’s career that he participated in the famous “Battle of Versailles” in November of 1973.

Even when designing in black, Burrows managed to put in a color accent. He had become known for finishing the edges of his clothes with a zig-zag stitch, and he often did the stitch in red.

Both the tunic and the pants are made of three layers of sheer and floaty chiffon. The sleeves are just one layer, which leaves them sheer, giving a bare, but actually covered up look.

This is a magnified look at the little sparkly dots on the fabric. You can see that they are tiny metal strips that are clamped around the weave of the fabric. I can’t imagine how this was created. By hand? By machine?  A few of them are missing, mainly from the shoulders. That’s understandable.

The pants have been professionally altered to enlarge the waist.  At first this puzzled me, as the back of the elastic casing was overlocked, which made it look original as it continued over the added piece. A closer look revealed that the stitching was a bit uneven, and the Stephen Burrows label had been shortened in the process.

The alteration does not bother me, mainly because it does not affect the way the set displays. I will sometimes remove later alterations to a garment, but I plan to just leave this one as it is. The fabric is delicate, and I could end up doing more harm than good to the piece.

I spent several days engrossed in early 1970s Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar magazines, hoping to find this set featured. I wasn’t so lucky, but there was an editorial in one 1973 magazine that showed a very similar Burrows top along with a flowy pantsuit by another designer.

I was pretty darn tickled when I spotted this gem when visiting friends at Style and Salvage. I want to thank them for giving me first dibs and for the use of their photo. But most of all thanks for letting me hang out and interrupt your busy day. Vintage friends are the best!

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Collecting, Designers, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing

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

Fashions & Home, Outdoor Number, May, 1927

This publication straddles the line between catalog and magazine. The William F. Gable Co, was a department store in Altoona, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1884, it closed in 1990, another victim of the shopping mall.

My decision to buy this publication was based solely on the cover. How could I miss with four sports represented on the cover? Inside is a mix of articles about Paris fashions and advice on what to buy for summer sports, complete with prices. There is also an article on how to decorate a porch with wicker furniture sets beginning at $46.50.

The illustrations are really great, with a big emphasis, as promised, on sports. This woman in her pretty robe de style, is unpacking the summer things she had packed away the previous fall. Is that a bathing cap with a Scottie dog?

This could be a photograph right out of Vogue which regularly featured the real life costumes of the rich and titled.

A “two-piece Knitted Frock, a Swiss or French import…” would have indeed been the choice for the golf course.

Here we see the knitted golf  ensemble, along with the linen tennis dress.

This illustration accompanied an article on picnicking, complete with suggestions, menu, and recipes.

I suspect this haircut would have been a bit outre for Altoona, PA. The dress was designed by Madeleine des Hayes. I have never encountered the name before, so please let me know if you know more about the elusive Mademoiselle des Hayes.

The dress is about as short as hemlines actually reached in the mid to late 1920s.

In contrast is this dress.

Bouffant dance frock for the graduate with tight bodice  and long full skirt of orchid and pink taffeta, uneven hem.

Yes, as early as 1927 it was evident that hemlines were going to drop. The high-low trend of just a few years ago was truly inspired by the designers who used this trick to ease the fashionable into longer skirt lengths in 1927.

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Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Fashion Magazines, Proper Clothing, Sportswear