Category Archives: Proper Clothing

Women in Pants – The Aftermath of World War I

While my main focus is sportswear, I sometimes have to take a slight detour to see other forces that were at work in the journey toward women wearing pants. One such detour is the influence of World War One. Many articles about women wearing pants will bring up WWII as being a watershed moment in the movement toward females in pants, and that is a true depiction. But we also need to remember the woman workers of WWI, as it was they who were truly the pioneers.

I’ve written a lot about how bloomer gym suits and knickers on the hiking trails helped ease women into pants. But we need to remember that these were mainly women with money. What about the working class woman who had little time for leisure pursuits and no money for college? It’s likely that the first pants experience of most working class women was with a bathing suit, but it was during WWI that so many women took over jobs traditionally done by men. It made sense to adopt the working attire of men as well.

The young workers above are wearing overall suits, and you can tell they have seen some very hard days. But note the shoes on the woman on the right. It looks as if she has pressed into service an old pair of dress shoes. One had to make do with what was available.

WWI ended in 1918, but work overalls continued to be offered to women. The illustration above is from a 1921 Montgomery Ward catalog. I have seen ads for sewing patterns for similar garments into the 1920s.

The wearing of overalls for work during WWI and the years immediately afterward did not directly lead to women taking up trousers for regular wear. It was, however, one of the many steps that allowed women to see the practicality of pants, and which got people used to the idea of women wearing pants.

This is a card advertising a calendar for 1919. It’s most likely that WWI was still going when the card was distributed to the customers of Swift & Company. Women working – and wearing pants while working – was depicted as the patriotic thing for women to do.

In writing about my photo I got to thinking about how history is taught. So often we look at WWI as a time period from 1914 to 1918, with battles from trenches, and poison gas, and No Man’s Land, and then the Armistice on 11/11/18. If individual people are considered at all, it is usually in anecdotes of Christmas Day cease fires or stories of heroic officers leading charges across barbed wire.

But how much more interesting history becomes when people, both men and women, are put into the big picture. By this I mean not just political changes brought about by war, but more importantly, the social changes. When you stop and think about it, your life today is influenced more by the social changes (including the beginnings of working women wearing pants) than by some of the political ones. (The formation of Czechoslovakia comes to mind, that is unless you live in the former country of Czechoslovakia.)

Looked at it this way, the history of clothing takes on a significance that is often overlooked.

 

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The Summer Girl at Carson, Pirie, Scott, Circa 1895

For several years I’ve been without a photo scanner. My old flatbed died, and I just could not justify the cost of the new huge boxes that did everything except mop the floor. But then my printer died, and it was time to bite the bullet. So I went to the computer place and was pleasantly surprised that not only had the boxes shrunk to a manageable size, they were also much more affordable. So I’m hoping you will see an improvement in the photographic quality of paper items.

I posted this little (smaller than the scan, actually) brochure on Instagram yesterday, and it was quickly noted that I am showing off a lot of new to my collection brochures. Yes, I have been on the lookout for additions to the sportswear archive, and I hope some more come my way soon.

The Summer Girl would more accurately be described as the New Woman. The brochure is not dated, but my best guess, based on the shape of the sleeves, is 1895.

Inside the folder Carson, Pirie, Scott details all the ingredients for a successful summer look, starting at the head…

and ending at the toes. By today’s standards, this is a lot of clothing for a summer outfit, but this “uniform” of sorts must have felt quite liberating to late Victorian women unused to clothing of such a practical nature.

What really sold me on this piece (besides the bathers on the front) was the concept of the complete outfit. Catalogs are so often an assemblage of bits and pieces, that it’s interesting to see what would have actually constituted an ensemble. Maybe it is because this is how I try to build my own collection. Having a pair of 1920s hiking knickers is not enough. I must also have the hat and blouse and socks and boots.

This is not collecting fashion as “art”. I’m interested in the things women wore and why they wore them. It’s hard to get the whole picture with only half the ensemble. At least that’s what I tell myself as I continue to look for the perfect 1930s beach sandals and the matching bathing suit to go with my favorite 1950s Ceeb swimming cover-up. The search continues!

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Ballantyne Cashmere for 1965 at N. Peal

N. Peal was established in 1936 by Nat Peal, and was located at the prestigious address of the Burlington Arcade in London. It sold cashmere and other wool sweaters, all made in the UK. Today, N. Peal is still in business, having been bought and somewhat rebranded in 2010. A quick look on the net shows that the sweaters under the N. Peal name are sold in the N.Peal stores, but also on discount sites like Outnet. They also appear to be made in China.

At one time the name Ballantyne guaranteed a high-quality cashmere product. The factory that made Ballantyne sweaters closed in 2013, but you can still buy Ballantyne products – made in China, of course.  But in the 1960s cashmere sweaters were a true luxury, and Ballantyne was one of the best. Combine that quality with the design skills of Bonnie Cashin, and you have a collaboration made in cashmere heaven.

http://fuzzylizzie.com/myPictures/cashmere/pneal65/img002.jpg

Click to enlarge

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the orange, or zinnia, version of this Bonnie Cashin for sale at some time in the past.

This sweater is so typical of the way Cashin mixed colors. I love that rounded collar.

A seller on etsy actually has this sweater and skirt set in two different colors. Note the pin in the neck opening. One of the sets that is for sale still has the pin and the original tags.

The skirt was a special design by Cashin which ensured a better fit. t was available in all the colors of the various sweaters.

Not all the items in my little catalog were designed by Cashin. Sweaters like the one above were probably available for several years both before and after 1965, being such a classic design.

By 1965, the collarless Chanel jacket had been made and sold by Mademoiselle for over ten years. If a brand labeled a jacket as “Chanel style” women who followed fashion knew exactly what was meant. Chanel herself found such references to be flattering.

Today though, Chanel, Inc. takes a hard line against any other company (and that includes re-sellers on eBay) using the Chanel name to sell a non-Chanel product.

This open letter to would-be abusers of the Chanel name was first published in 2009 in fashion magazines. This is an attempt to keep control of the Chanel name. They don’t want “Chanel” to become an adjective. The Fashion Law explains it well. 

It’s a bit like trying to close the barn door after the horse is already out, seeing as how “Chanel” has been used in a descriptive manner since at least 1965, and I suspect, even earlier. But those Chanel lawyers are, as they say, serious. I’ve known eBay auctions for “Chanel-like” suits to simply disappear.

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1950s Pat Perkins Fore Action Golf Dress

For longer than I care to think about I had been meaning to drive down the mountain to Greenville, South Carolina. Greenville is one of those places that is making an effort to revitalize the downtown area, and at the same time smaller enclaves of retail and restaurant activity are springing to life.  One of these enclaves is the Village of West Greenville.  West Greenville was originally a a cotton mill village.

The nearby Brandon Mill employed over one thousand workers in the prosperous cotton mill days of the early twentieth century. The most famous person to ever work there was Shoeless Joe Jackson, who started his baseball career playing for the Brandon Mills team. For those of you who don’t know baseball history (or who don’t live with a Chicago White Sox fan) Jackson was involved in the infamous Black Sox scandal of 1919.

Today West Greenville is home to Kate DiNatale Vintage. It was there that I found this great late 1950s golf dress.

I knew the brand name Pat Perkins, but I had no idea the company made golf dresses. I knew them as a maker of affordable day dresses.

Fans of classic television know the Pat Perkins name because it is boldly featured in the opening credits of The Honeymooners. According to The Official Honeymooners Treasury, Mac Kaplan, the owner of Sunnyvale Inc. the maker of Pat Perkins dresses, gave the show a few dozen dresses for Audrey Meadows as Alice Kramden to wear on the show in exchange for a listing in the opening credits. Unfortunately, Alice always wore an apron that covered much of the dress, much to Kaplan’s chagrin.

One thing that makes a good golf dress is the presence of functional pockets. And I love these, with the top of the pocket forming a belt loop.

You can see how the breast pocket mirrors the styling of the lower ones. Because this dress is sleeveless, there is no need for adaptations in the sleeves. Do note the additional ease in the shoulders.

One place I always look for information on a brand or trademark is the Trademark Electronic Search System. It is a very handy tool, but it has to be used with caution. Even though the label has a little R for registered trademark beside “Fore Action”, I could not find it in the system. The only Pat Perkins trademark listed dates to 1962, and clearly states that the first use of the trademark is 1962. Some users might mistakenly take this to mean that the Pat Perkins label was not used before 1962, but we know that is not true. The registration is in fact referring to the brand name plus a slogan: “Pat Perkins, Reflecting America’s Most Treasured Daytime Dress.”

If you are ever in the Greenville area, a trip to Kate’s beautiful store is most recommended.

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Circa 1895 Gage-Downs Bicycle Waists Catalog

The bicycle craze of the 1890s made bike riding popular with women, and clothing companies were quick to see an opportunity to market new goods to these women. Maybe I’m being overly cynical, as clothing had to adapt to meet the needs of women bicyclers. Skirts had to be shortened so they wouldn’t get caught up in the moving parts of the bike. The sleeves of jackets and blouses had to be full enough to allow movement. And corsets had to change in order for a woman to ride in comfort.

This great little catalog from the Gage-Downs Company of Chicago shows how one company worked on the corset problem. This was before the brassiere was developed around 1915, and one purpose of the corset was to support the bust. In a standard corset, the support comes from below, but in a bust supporter like these from Gage-Downs, the bust is mainly supported from the shoulders.

Another big improvement in this design was that the bicycle waist ended at the waist instead of extending over the hips. Here is more information from an 1896 Gage-Downs ad:

Graceful as the New Woman, all the time – at work – a-wheel – in negligee – is she who wears a G-D Bicycle Waist. The most sensible garment ever invented. As shown in cut, it come only to the waist, leaving the lower part of the body absolutely free. Elastic at sides, it gives with every motion of the body. Elastic shoulder straps; tape buttons for attachment to skirt or bloomers.

I love how the illustrator chose to show the bicycling women in bloomers, rather than in skirts, though most women and girls wore shortened skirts of bicycling.

The catalog also has some more conventional corsets which extend to cover the top of the hips.

And here is the 1890s version of the training bra.

I looked to see what the WWW could tell me about Gage-Downs.  The company was started in 1885 by Frank Newton Gage and Lewis A. Downs. Having made a fortune in corsets, Gage sold his interest in the company in 1891. He went into the stock trade where he made even more money.

Lewis Downs has a more colorful story. He continued on with the company until he died in 1911. Unfortunately, Downs had a big secret – he had two wives, one in Chicago and another in Colorado. Upon his death the second wife claimed his property in Colorado, and was taken to court by the son of the first wife. The second “wife” was out of luck, as the marriage was not legal.

Most interestingly, the newspaper article I found, the June 14, 1911 edition of the Chicago Tribune, took the son to task for exposing his father. The headline read, “Son, for Fortune, Reveals Bigamy of Sire in Grave”!

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1910s – 1920 Wool Gym Suit

I started adding gym suits to my collection purely by accident.  Ten years or so ago I was trading some things with my favorite vintage shop when the owner pulled out a 1940s gym suit and insisted that I take it. I was a bit reluctant as I was trying to limit the focus of my acquiring.  I now realize she knew me better than I knew myself.

Since then I’ve actively searched for gym suits, and now have sixteen in my collection dating from circa 1870 through the 1950s.  Considering how women claim to have detested their gym suits, it is surprising how many survive. I’m pretty sure my 1970s version was destroyed decades ago!

I found my latest gym suit at the Liberty Antiques Festival back in April. I almost missed it, as it was folded in a stack of old linens. But something about the black serge caught my eye as I passed by.  The lesson is, of course, to always look through unpromising stacks of linens.

I estimate this one to date from 1915 through 1920.  The photo above is from an Aldrich & Aldrich catalog showing a 1920 gym suit from their inventory.  Mine is a different company, E.R. Moore, but the styling is very similar, with the loose belt that contains the wide pleats that fall from a yoke at the shoulders.

E.R. Moore was founded in 1907, and made not only gym suits, but also academic gowns for graduations and other ceremonies. As far as I can tell, the gym suit production ended several decades ago, but gowns continued to be made at least until 2005. The year before there was a big kerfuffle at Harvard when it rained at graduation and the dye from the gowns ruined graduates’ clothing. The factory building is now loft apartments.

 

One thing I especially love about this suit is that I know the name of the original owner.  Not only is Virginia Hooper’s name sewn into the suit, but a note was attached as well.

I have not been able to identify Ms. Hooper, but the suit came from a consolidation estate company in Indian Trail, NC, which is in the Charlotte area. Along with the gym suit and linens, several boxes of high quality fabrics came from the estate. (And yes, I bought some of them as well.)

 

After looking at the Aldrich catalog, I’m thinking I should have photographed the belt buttoning at the back.

Without the belt you can see how roomy this gym suit is.  No need for a corset here.

In my quest for more information about this particular suit, I turned to When the Girls Came Out to Play, by Patricia Campbell Warner, and I was rewarded with some nice details about this style of gym suit.  It was designed around 1910 by Florence Bolton at Stanford University, and was based on the English gym slip, but with bloomers at the bottom. It was designed to be worn with a cotton blouse beneath. Practical though it was, this design proved to be unpopular as it was too far from mainstream fashion. Warner points out, however, that before long, most women’s fashions had a similar silhouette. Once again we see the influence of sports attire.

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing, Winter Sports

1940s Made in Hawaii Bathing Suit from Kahala

This recently acquired halter and shorts set sent me down a rabbit hole of Hawaiian textiles.  The beginnings of the Hawaiian shirt are a bit obscure, but the first ones were probably made from silk fabrics from Japan in the 1920s.  Most of them were made by small shops in small batches. The large scale manufacture of shirts from Hawaiian fabrics started in the mid 1930s.

My set was made by Kahala, one of the first companies to manufacture “Hawaiian” garments.  It was started in 1936 by Nat Norfleet and George Brangier, neither of whom was a native Hawaiian. Their company, Branfleet, was using the Kahala name and label by 1937.  From what I’ve been able to find out, women’s garments were not made until after World War II, but then clothing for women became a major part of their business.

It is possible that my set is actually a bathing suit. It is completely lined in cotton jersey.

What Norfleet and Brangier discovered was that men would buy a shirt made from their Hawaiian fabrics to wear while in Hawaii, but women would continue to wear their Kahala garments after returning home.  I’d say this was much better than today’s not so subtle brag of the souvenir tee shirt.  You could remind the neighbors of your Hawaiian trip while looking fabulous.

I don’t find a lot of older Hawaiian garments here in the Southeast. People here were much more likely to vacation in Florida, or if a little more affluent, Cuba. But from the few older Hawaiian shirts I have been able to closely examine, I can tell you that the fabric is very different from the newer rayons made in the 1980s up through the present time.  My set is rayon, but it is lightly textured, though smooth at the same time.

The button is made from coconut shell, and adds another layer of Hawaiian authenticity.

But the star of this set is the print.  The richness is achieved with the use of at least fourteen colors.  I especially love the light blue used with so much red.

According to my one and only book on Hawaiian shirts, the very earliest prints were tropical flowers and tapa cloth prints. Scenics like mine soon became popular as well.

The Hawaiian Shirt, by H. Thomas Steele, was one of the very first fashion books I bought.  I can remember looking through it in the local B. Dalton book store and trying to justify the purchase. It was published in 1984, so I’m sure it was shortly after than that I added this to my very small, but growing, fashion history library.

 

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