Category Archives: Proper Clothing

1920s Wool Knickers for Women

I’ve wanted (or, rather, needed) a pair of 1920s wool knickers for some time, and so my heart skipped a few beats last week when I finally found a pair. I had been hoping to find a pair with a matching jacket, and even told myself I was going to hold out for a set, but the minute I laid eyes on these I knew I had to add them to my collection.

Why all the fascination with knickers? For one thing, knickers were both the shorts and the slacks for 1920s women and girls. Except for bloomers worn in gym class and at the end of the decade, pajamas worn on the beach, knickers and the similar garment, breeches, were the only options women had for wearing pants in public.

I’ve heard lots of stories from women who were young during the 1920s of how they raided brother’s closet to daringly wear his knickers. But by the early 1920s that was not even necessary, as mass-market catalogs like Montgomery Ward carried knickers for girls and women.

The clothing above is from the 1925 Montgomery Ward catalog. On the left are breeches, and on the right is a pair of wool tweed knickers. Note that both button on the side, on both sides actually, and the front drops for convenience. Whenever I find a photo of a woman wearing knickers I always try to see the closure, but usually it is obscured as you can see in the photo above.  The presence of a front fly would indicate the woman is wearing men’s knickers.

My pair has pockets that hide the buttons of the opening.

The seam edges are secured with an overlock stitch made by an early machine of this type. Overlocking is most commonly seen on sportswear in garments before the late 1960s.

Here’s another pair from Montgomery Ward, this time from the 1930 catalog. You can see that the style is little changed from the ones made five years earlier.  Knickers were more utilitarian than fashion, but soon after 1930 women’s knickers disappeared from catalogs. In their place were shorts, slacks, and pajamas. My 1932 Sears catalog has no knickers at all for women. It does have breeches and ankle-length knicker-like pants for skiing, and even a pair of actual slacks. Times were definitely changing.

I’m still in the market for a great 1920s wool knicker suit if anyone happens upon one.

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Filed under 1920s fashion, Camping and Hiking, Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Uncategorized, Vintage Clothing

Pierre Cardin: Pursuit of the Future

Currently showing at SCADFASH in Atlanta is Pierre Cardin: Pursuit of the Future. As the title suggests, this exhibition is an exploration of how in the mid 1960s designer Cardin envisioned clothing of the future. As such, it’s not a true retrospective of Cardin’s work, but rather, an intensive look at what he is most known for, aside from all the hundreds of licencing agreements.

Cardin’s career began after WWII, when he worked first for Paquin and Schiaparelli, and then for Christian Dior. His first collection under his own name was released in 1951. This suit from 1957 shows the short-lived sack-back style, but it also shows Cardin’s love of structure and sharp tailoring.

The great majority of the exhibition was concerned with Cardin’s “space age”, or Mod looks. I really think the main point of this exhibition could be summed up with the photo above. These two dresses, both with a similar aesthetic, are forty-five years apart. The dress on the left was made in 1968, and the one on the right, in 2013.

So I spent time in front of each look, trying to determine if the look was from the Sixties, or if it were a modern re-interpretation of Cardin’s vision from the 1960s. Sometimes I was right, but just as often, I was not.

The dress above is from 1966. No problem believing that, right?

But what about these two? Both are from 2017! I have a lot to say about these dresses, but first let me say that the longer dress was one of my favorites, as well as one of Liza’s, with whom I saw the exhibition. We just adored the 1920s vibe of it.

What I found so interesting was that the fiber content of both as labeled as “synthetic”. That really doesn’t tell us a lot. The more modern dresses were mostly labeled this way (though some were made from wool jersey), but the 1960s ones were made from wool. The value to me of an exhibition of this sort is that I gain some insights on that I thought I already knew. In this case, I was struck at how the highly structured wool fabrics Cardin used created a silhouette so similar to the wool or polyester doubleknit fabrics used by the average home sewer in the 1960s.

This dress is from 1968, and is made of wool. The dress is so structured that I’m guessing it was interfaced and interlined, and then lined in another fabric. In 1968 the girls in my school were wearing similarly stiff and shaped dresses, but made, for the most part by our mothers and grandmothers. It was an easy look to imitate with doubleknit (and often with a bonded interlining) fabric.

Cardin was an early adopter of pantsuits for women. The 1966 one here is quite similar to the suits he designed for the Beatles several years earlier. He also incorporated this usage of zippers into his men’s clothing.

In 1969 women were in a quandary over skirt lengths. The midi and the maxi had been introduced, but many were reluctant to give up the mini. Cardin’s solution of long over short was a common one. The shiny bits are vinyl, and being attached to the wool coat and skirt, it must have driven dry cleaners crazy, as it does museum curators today. Many times the vinyl has not held up. Several years ago I was touring the archives of the North Carolina Museum of History with the textiles curator, who was an acquaintance. The museum had just acquisitioned a Cardin dress from this line. The wool was perfect, but the vinyl was sticky and in really bad condition.

The “Carwash” dress dates to 1969. It was widely copied, but I can remember seeing an original Cardin in a thrift store years ago. That one is high on my list of things I regret not buying.

Along the same lines is this tunic from 1970. Getting dressed in this one had to have been an experience.

Cardin did design for men as well as women, but while the women’s clothes of the 1960s look quite normal to us today, his menswear is anything but normal. The vinyl collar of the jumpsuit was modeled after that of a NASA spacesuit, but I’m pretty sure Neil Armstrong did not have a vinyl brief (codpiece?) over his suit. And note how the placement of the zippers is very similar to that on the woman’s suit seen earlier.

The red and black dress is again, wool and vinyl. I really like this 1968 dress and the way the sleeves are made in one with the yoke, but the presence of the vinyl makes it look a bit uncomfortable.

I hope you can tell this is a jumper over a black bodysuit. This is from 1967, and you can see how Cardin used the diamond-on-a-belt shape on the red dress above. I was happy to spot skirts with a similar motif for sale.

This skirt, and another in orange, is made of vinyl and mohair. Photo courtesy of Style & Salvage.

The three colorful dresses in the middle are all from 2015 and 2016, though Augusta Auctions just sold a 1960s version of the pink skirt with the straps that look like the spokes of a wheel.

Note Cardin’s use of circles as a motif, and go back through the photos above to spot more circles.

Even if the show notes had not pointed out Cardin’s love of the circle, any visitor could not help but notice them.

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In a large grouping like this one the circles are even more obvious.

In the center of the exhibition there was an interesting display of Cardin’s evening looks that I thought were beautifully displayed, and shown, I’m guessing to get the point across that Cardin could do more looks than the Mod styles with which he is most associated. The lace and silk dress above is from 1977.

This very Halston-esque gown is from 2017. It is a spectacular little frock!

I loved the set of this exhibition. It was straight out of a 1960s space age fashion show with pods and circles galore.

For the first time that I’ve vivited SCADFASH, instead of a paper guide to the garments, I was loaned an ipad that had had the show notes. I loved this. It was easy to navigate, and best of all, it can be accessed through the SCAD website. So even if you can’t get to Atlanta before the show closes on September 30, 2018, you can browse the guide and see all the looks. I recommend it if you are at all interested in learning and seeing more.

 

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Filed under Designers, Museums, Proper Clothing, Uncategorized

Caricature: The Wit & Humor of a Nation, c. 1915

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One of the great joys of the Goodwill Outlet bins is the over-abundance of books. I never leave the place without a stack of them, most of which I read and then pass on or re-donate. A while back I found an interesting volume, Caricature: The Wit & Humor of a Nation in Picture, Song & Story. Of course it went into my cart, because as the subtitle promised, it was full of wonderful illustrations.

There’s no date on this book, but the Leslie-Judge Company published an annual Caricature starting around 1895. Several of the illustrations in this particular book are dated 1915, and so my guess it is from that year, or perhaps a year later.

The sporting life was a popular theme. Maybe it’s because members of the leisured classes were a bit of an easy target for humorists of the day. I’ll admit that the humor is often dated, and would leave many modern readers scratching their heads. But I’m in it for the pictures, not the jokes.

There are lots of illustrations of people swimming, and the bathing suits are incredibly modern for 1915. From what I’ve seen in the many circa 1915 photos I’ve examined, most women at the beach were still in long, woven wool or cotton bathing suits, not the sleek knit ones seen above.

This one is especially skimpy. Do you suppose the man is her father and is getting ready to lock her in the bath house?

Here the young women are still wearing their schoolgirl middy blouses. This was a common look for tennis and golf. Notice that girl with the tennis racket is wearing a headband to control her hair.  As I wrote earlier, this is a look associated with the 1920s, so it seemed a bit early for this style to appear in print. I knew that the look was popularized by tennis star Suzanne Lenglen, and a quick google search found a 1914 article showing Lenglen wearing the famous bandeau.

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Just as interesting as the sporting pictures are those showing well-off people at leisure.

Here we have three elegantly dressed promanaders…

and three more (bulldog included) who would rather be, well anywhere but on that boring boardwalk.  But these illustrations show how the fashion silhouette of 1915 was showing big changes over the previous years. The skirts are shorter with considerable fullness. And it seems obvious to me that stripes were very popular for seaside wear.

You do have to look at period illustrations with a questioning eye. Drawings are often exaggerated to make a point, as we see in the skimpy bathing suit drawing above. But look carefully, and you just might learn something, as I did with the tennis headband.

 

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Filed under Curiosities, Currently Reading, Proper Clothing, Sportswear

1920s Sports Bandeau

Sometimes it’s the smallest and simplest vintage item that is the hardest to find. I’ve written in the past about the popularity of the head band, or bandeau, for sports. They are very commonly seen in photos of women tennis players of the 1920s, but a search for one for my collection was proving to be almost impossible. For some time I’ve been coveting one Susan Langley pictured in her book, Roaring 20’s Fashion: Jazz. Her example was new and on the original sales card.

The problem with finding a 1920s sports bandeau is that it is obviously a stretchy knit band, and many women would recognize it as being for the head, but how many would see the specific purpose for which it was designed? I fear than many, when found, are not seen as item of significance. It’s just an old headband.

Thankfully, one etsy seller, O2Vintage, did recognize this little piece and listed it exactly as it is. Through some miracle I found it, and how I have the desired bandeau.

It’s finely knit of silk, and the five little decorative buttons are also made of silk thread wrapped around a base. The condition of this little piece is incredible, and I suspect the wearer was more into fashion than tennis!

Can you see where the band narrows slightly at the back? The wearer would not need nor want as much width where the bandeau is beneath the hair.

In this flat shot the width change is even more obvious. Sometimes we take something simple like a hair band for granted, but even the simplest object can be designed with improvement of use in mind.

From this early 1920s photo it looks as if I should have pulled the bandeau lower across the forehead of my mannequin. A quick look at the rest of my old photos show that these were worn just above the eyebrows, just as a cloche, the current style in hats, would have been worn.

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

Empire Sporting Goods, Spring & Summer 1942 Catalog.

I added this 1942 Empire catalog to my collection for several reasons. First, I have an Empire piece in my collection, and I wanted documentation for it. But I was also interested to see how women’s sports clothing, especially softball uniforms were marketed in the very earliest days of WWII. This was a full year before the formation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that we all know of from the movie A League of Their Own.

http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/catalog/empire42/empire42a.jpg

Click to enlarge.

Before 1943, women were expected to play softball rather than baseball (something that for the most part is true today). As you can see from this page, the softball uniforms were very much like traditional baseball uniforms worn by boys and men. If you have seen A League of Their Own, you know that the women in that league did not wear traditional baseball uniforms. The Smithsonian has one of the women’s baseball uniforms that belonged to  Betsy Jochum, a player for the South Bend Blue Sox. I want, no I need, one of these uniforms in my life.

Looking through this catalog, it’s interesting to see how subtly fashion appears in the clothing. Often sports clothing is not thought of as being fashionable at all, but fashion is reflected in even an object as mundane as basketball shorts. Remember the good old days when Tom Selleck wore his shorts very short on Magnum, P.I.? It was the same on basketball courts across the country. When shorts lengthened and became baggy in the 1990s, the change was also seen in basketball uniforms.

In addition to the active sportswear, Empire also offered school jackets for both men and women. By the 1940s the standard raglan sleeve “letter jacket” was already available for men, but they also had more stylish offerings for both men and women.

And because this catalog must have gone to press just as the USA was entering WWII, there were all sorts of military logoed items available. I’ve got to wonder if these were actually ordered by the military, or if they were available to just anyone.

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, World War II

Elisabeth Stewart Swim Set

One of the great things about collecting more recent eras of fashion is that there is so much choice. On the other hand, the existence of so much stuff from the past sixty years or so means that a collector has to really be careful in buying so as not to be distracted by all the choices. I’ve written before about how I really try to limit my acquisitions to the very best examples possible. When it comes to sportswear from the mid 1950s and younger, it pays to be patient and to wait until something really special hits the market.

Spend some time looking at old ads from the past and you’ll quickly see that bathing suit companies didn’t just make bathing suits. All sorts of accessories and matching garments were available to the swimsuit shopper. One such garment was the matching cover-up.

I spotted this set some time ago, and I really fell for it. Not only was the set never worn, but there were three matching pieces. The label was one that was not represented in my collection, and the price was fair.

Elisabeth Stewart was the daughter of Catalina swimsuits owner, Ed Stewart. When Ed sold Catalina in 1956, Elisabeth and her brothers, David and Bill Stewart, opened their own bathing suit business in Los Angeles. At that time swimsuit styles (along with fashion in general) were beginning to change. The hourglass New Look was fading, and straighter lines were showing up. Elisabeth Stewart’s swimsuits reflected this change.

This style bathing suit, with the straight across bodice attached to shorts was made popular by designer Tina Leser who was making swimsuits for Gabar.  Leser was adept at making bathing suits that gave women a bit more coverage. The style must have struck a chord with women because it remains available today, sixty years later.

But the real icing on this bathing suit cake is this matching hat. It looks rather silly on, but it brings out a facet of the set that didn’t really occur to me until I saw the hat on the mannequin. It appears to me that this suit was inspired by the old-fashioned men’s Edwardian striped knit bathing suits, along with the caps worn by Edwardian women bathers.

The label I’m showing is in the hat. Tapoo Hawes was Bill Hawes, a maker of sports hats. The first reference I’ve found to Tapoo was in 1952, in Jet. By looking at some of the hats by Hawes I found for sale, I’d say he continued in business into the 1970s.

Finally, go back to my first photo to make sure you noticed how the design of the fabric was actually achieved through seams. Just beautiful!

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Y’s and Other Y’s, Converse College, 1901

I seem to have a new-found knack for finding antique yearbooks from women’s colleges. I don’t “collect” them, but the illustrations are just so marvelous, and they add a lot to the types of information gathering I’m doing on women’s sportswear. My latest find is from Converse College, located in Spartanburg, SC, and founded in 1889. Converse is still open, and is still a woman’s college, though they do have a co-ed graduate program.

Y’s and Other Y’s is like other yearbooks I’ve seen from the early 20th century. It a mixture of a record of the school’s activities combined with a literary journal of sorts. It’s illustrated with both photographs and drawings, most of which are signed A.C. Coles.

A.C. Coles was Annie Cadwallader Coles, and she was a junior in the spring of 1901. After Annie graduated in 1902, she went to New York, where she contiuned to study art privately. She eventually took up permanent residence in her hometown, Columbia, South Carolina. She never married, and made her living painting portraits of prominent Columbia residents. Annie died in 1969.

For Y’s and Other Y’s, Annie drew a series of sports girls, featuring the athletics of Converse College.

At first glance one might think these drawings were made by Charles Dana Gibson, as they are so much in his style.

Interestingly, even in the drawings that depicted girls engaged in activities which would have required bloomers, there is not a single trace of them in any of the drawings.

At least the skirts were shown shortened.

The photographs of the sports teams also obscure whether or not the team members were wearing bloomers under those skirts. Please don’t miss the girl at the very top, holding the ball in profile.

Or maybe there is a tiny trace of a bloomered leg there in the front row.

I found an obituary for Annie Coles, thanks to the wonders of the internet. From it:

A small woman of spare frame, Miss Coles was an early advocate of healthy diets, some of which have recently come into vogue, and she was a believer in physical fitness. She walked almost everywhere she went in Columbia, and she attributed her ability to continue painting into her 80s to diet and physical exercise.

 

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