Category Archives: Proper Clothing

1880s College Crew Set

This post should have a subtitle. Maybe “Sometimes You Just Get Lucky.” Probably though, “It Pays to Be a Bookworm” is more appropriate. The truth is, unless I had read and reread my favorite book on women in sports, When the Girls Came Out to Play, by Patricia Campbell Warner, I would never have had an inkling of the purpose of this garment. As it was, it took me a while to actually figure out the purpose of this set, mainly because spotting it on Instagram was so unexpected.

The set has three pieces, and the seller, @vintageloftny, photographed the set with the blouse over the top of the skirt. That’s understandable, as there is elastic in the bottom of the blouse, and it makes sense that it would be on the outside of the skirt. However, something made me stop and visualize the blouse tucked into the waist of the skirt.

Page from 1889 Butterick pattern catalog, reproduced in When the Girls Came Out to Play

Once I saw the blouse in a different light, it rang a bell. The nautical details and the marine blue color pointed to a garment that was worn on the water. I ruled out sailing or yachting because I have been involved in studying issues of Harper’s Bazar from the 1860s through 1900. All the boating costumes shown (and there were a surprising lot of them) were styled in the current fashion, and were worn over a corset. The top two bodices are good examples.

My blouse does not follow the style of the late 1800s. Its loose fit pointed to a use in sports. I suspected it might be for rowing crew, and as good luck would have it, When the Girls Came Out to Play has a whole chapter on how Wellesley and other women’s colleges formed crew teams in the late 1870s.

Wellesley Class of 1886 crew, from When the Girls Came Out to Play

Warner showed quite a few crew uniforms from the 1880s. Each class at the college had a crew team, all with their own special uniform. You might be surprised that the crew teams were not for racing. They were for performing musical spectacles for the public. This would explain why skirts were used instead of the bloomers the young women were accustomed to in gym class. Bloomers were not for public consumption.

Warner put forth the possibility that bloomers could have been worn underneath the skirts, but that there is no evidence of that. My set tends to say no, because it is complete with blouse, skirt, and belt. I would think that if these three pieces had been kept together for 135 years, if bloomers had existed, they would be present as well.

My set is made of the loveliest blue wool, and it appears to have been made by an expert dressmaker. All the tiny eyelets where the string fastens the blouse were made by hand. The white braid was laid on by hand.

Unmistakably nautical in design.

The skirt is also gathered and attached to the waistband by hand.

And the nicest surprise of all is the presence of a nice, deep pocket.

I have dated this piece as probably 1880 through 1886. After 1885 the crews began to turn from comfort to fashion, and most adapted a stylish corseted bodice. However, it’s not quite as silly at it sounds because these bodices were often made of jersey, which did afford a degree of comfort.

The blouse top did remain, however, and was used for gym class and other outdoor activities. I have read articles from the late 1800s that advised women hikers to wear a sports blouse. The page of Butterick patterns seen above is from 1889, and you can see that the puffed sleeve creeping in. My smooth capped sleeves are prior to that date.

I have long kept a list of older sportswear pieces that I would love to own, but a crew uniform was not on the list. I guess I thought that since they were such a specialized item, used for only a short time and in only a few places, it was doubtful one would ever turn up. But in the world of antique clothing, you just never know. Thanks so much to Mary Caroline of Vintage Loft NY.

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear

1930s Collegiate Print Beach Pajamas

Beach pajamas are one of my favorite historic clothing items. They were in vogue for about fifteen years, during which time the concept went through several changes. Much of my interest stems from this garment’s role in making wearing pants in public by women acceptable. Much of my summer has been spent on gathering information, and then writing a paper on the evolution of pajamas on the beach. I’ll be sharing my paper in the future, first hopefully at my regional Costume Society of America symposium, and then here on my blog.

I already had several pairs of really great pajamas in my collection. I have told myself that I did not need any more, so I’ve not been tempted by any I have seen for sale in a while. But I had always wanted this particular pair, with the college pennant design. I felt like this design had been commercially produced because I had seen at least two examples of it.

When my friend Erika who posts as Cattybritches on Instagram posted a photo of this pair she spotted in an antique mall up her way, I was hoping she would be able to retrieve them for me. She was, and this week they arrived in my mailbox. In the collecting business, it really does pay to have friends!

The brand is Sas See Maids. As you can see on the label, they made dresses, smocks, and Hoovers (which was a wrap housedress) as well as pajamas. Note the line, “Made for the best retail trade”.

To put it into perspective, this ad shows these cost just 33 cents, and were found in the bargain basement. For those of you not old enough to have experienced a true bargain basement, my sympathies are with you. Even into the early 1970s the basement in Ivey’s in Asheville was a bargain hunter’s dream. I would spend hours there treasure hunting.

My exact pajamas are not in the ad, but it does mention the college pennant fabric. Best of all, it mentions a beach coat with trim. Dare I dream?

The ad and the newspaper clipping above came from Michelle of Wide Awake Vintage. Yet again, it pays to have friends with similar interests.

The low V neck in both front was back and the extra wide legs put this garment in the 1930 -1934 range. The low back developed about at the same time as low backed evening gowns and low backed bathing suits. The object was to acquire and then show off a suntan.

I hope you noticed the hat, because it is partly why I wanted this set so much. After examining it, I don’t believe it was commercially made. The seams are a bit too irregular, and the finishing is poor. The pajamas fit a person about five feet tall, so it’s possible these were shortened, and the excess used to make the hat. Or I could be wrong. Maybe another hat will materialize and prove me wrong.

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

1920s Silk Bathing Shoes

In pandemic times, what would we do without the internet?  I’ll be completely honest – I find shopping in a real store or antiques market and spotting something wonderful for my collection much more satisfying than online shopping. This is especially true of ebay auctions where there’s little immediate gratification. But some things are worth the wait, and here’s my latest example of that.

I spotted these silk 1920s bathing shoes on @1860-1960’s Instagram page, and my poor heart stood still.  Bathing shoes of any kind are getting harder and harder to find, and here was a pair that I’d never seen before. A week later, they were mne, and a week after that, they showed up in my mailbox. I was not disappointed.

These are actually a silk print placed over a canvas base. I have several canvas pairs of bathing shoes. They had to be made of a sturdy fabric in order to survive their hard use on sand and rocks, and in salt water.

Almost all bathing shoes had canvas soles. I do know that Keds made a bathing shoes with a rubber sole, and by the 1930s, rubber bathing shoes had pretty much replaced canvas ones.  I have seen canvas shoes with leather soles advertised as bathing shoes or boots, but no.

My new shoes have a two-button closure. Some have one button, like Mary Jane shoes, some tie, and others, mainly boots, have laces.

I looked for an image in my resources that showed a printed fabric made into a bathing shoe, but was not successful. So I decided to show some  of the history of bathing shoes from photos in my collection. Please note that bathing shoes go back to Victorian times, and some are very fancy.These are rarely seen on the market.

These bathing boots date to the 1910s, and I can’t quite figure them out. I think they lace and the wearer tied them on the back of the leg.

Bathing boots continued to be popular into the early 1920s. Note that the dark stockings have been replaced by rolled white ones.

These could be black, but I’ve seen these in red and dark green as well as black.

A few years later, this woman wore bathing boots which were cut out in the front.

They are not quite a shoe, and not quite a boot.  These date to the mid 1920s.

My new bathing shoes were probably made in the mid to late 1920s, at the end of the canvas bathing shoe’s popularity. In the  1930s, women turned to rubber shoes, or bare feet in the water, with sandals on the shore.

This photo dates from 1929 or 1930. Her fantastic shoes are made from rubber.

I really do want to thank all the online sellers who have persevered during such a trying time. Thank you for keeping collectors like me from going insane!

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Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Proper Clothing, Summer Sports

1940s Bonnie Beach Bag

My newest acquisition is this “Bonnie Bag” from the 1940s.  It’s often described as a knitting bag, but period advertising describe it also as a beach bag.  This is a bit of a lazy post, as I bought this bag from Robin of Edgertor at Etsy.  Of all the vintage sellers I know, Robin does the best job of researching her wares. So much of what you will read here is Robin’s work, which she freely shared.

The bag style seems to be quite common, and dated to the late 1930s. Several different companies made these, with some being labeled while others are not. In 1942 W.L.M.Clark registered a design patent for two styles of the bag  – one with an oval wooden plaque, and one with a square plaque.

Here’s one of the patent drawings, with the square wooden plaque. Robin says she doubts that Clark actually invented the design, and I agree with her.  Here is an ad for the bag from May, 1942, months before Clark’s patent for a slightly different design was registered.

It is a clever design, and being made of heavy canvas, they have held up well over the years. Mine shows a few signs of use, but it is in really excellent condition.

My bag was made by A. Mamaux & Son. Would it surprise you to learn that this was a window awning business, not a handbag business?

If you were an awning store in the 1930s or 40s, would you throw out the leftover scraps from awning projects? No, of course not. In this case it really appears that remnants  were used to make a type of Bonnie Bag.

I had been looking for the perfect Bonnie Bag when I saw this one in Robin’s Instagram feed. With that little Scottie, how could I  resist?

The canvas is very heavy – sturdy enough to carry all one’s beach needs.

Expanded, the bag has a totally different look.

I have seen quite a few of this type of expandable bag with no label at all. I don’t think it’s a far reach to assume that these were also made in the home from scraps of canvas, especially during wartime.

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Summer Sports, World War II

Mitzi’s 1920s Photo Album

I’m calling this new-to-me 1920s photo album Mitzi’s Album, because Mitzi the Boston Terrier is the only person identified in the entire book.  Mitzi’s owner, above, is scattered throughout the album, along with several faces that became familiar while taking a deep look at this great book.

Like so many photo albums I’ve studied over the years, this one appears to have started out as a memento of a specific trip – in this case a stay at a fishing camp sometime between 1922 and 1924. But after the vacation photos were all glued in, Mitzi’s owner decided to add some earlier photos, and then some from around 1926. I know this, of course, because of the women’s clothing.

There are lots of photos of the vacationers holding the catch of the day.  I believe these came from an estate in Wisconsin, so that might explain all the warm looking clothes in what appears to be summer or fall. I hope you can see her shoes. They look like Mary Janes to me. Women were just turning to pants for leisure, and the idea of appropriate footwear had not quite caught up with the more “mannish” attire. I see this over and over in 1920s photos.

Here’s the photo album owner again. She is standing in front of what looks to me to be a summer cabin. The middle class had really taken to the idea of a summer place, and many built cabins or cottages on little plots of land on a lake front, beach, or river bank. There are still many of these still existing across the US, especially in the East and Midwest.

I guess we would call her dress a housedress. Can you see why so many women found dressing in the 1920s to be a challenge? Not all women were John Held-ish flappers.

Women were just beginning to boldly wear knickers without a skirt over top of them. The woman on the left looks like she put together an ensemble of knickers and a sweater, but the girl on the right is wearing a matching ensemble that looks to be made of velvet or another piled fabric.

I can see why the girl in the dress from the previous photo opted out of this one. I would refuse to get that close to a snapping turtle myself. And I find myself wondering what’s in the bottle.

If she can wear the pants, he can wear the dress. There were several photos of this mock proposal and courtship.

I’m pretty sure this is the same woman as in the photo above. I want that bathing suit. Badly. Note how the cap has the white stripe trim as well.

Another great bathing suit is worn by the woman who captured the turtle.

What is it about a striped skirt on holiday? These must have been very popular, as I have photos of quite a few women from around 1905 to 1925 wearing them.  And the woman on the right (recognize her as the female suitor?) shows what it took for a woman to look fantastic in the 1920s. One needed to be slim, and have a sense of what worked on her body.

Back in town, we see Mitzi’s owner and the male bride again. I can’t figure out who the young woman on the left is, but her outfit is really nice.

Mitzi’s owner must have had some old photos she didn’t know what to do with, so into the album they went. This one was taken in the 1910s.

After that, things get really random. Again, here’s an excellent illustration of how 1920s fashion favored the slim, and also the tall. See how skirts were creeping toward the knee?

I can’t tell that these two women have any relation to any of the other photos. So, were slacks so unusual that one would ask two women wearing them to pose for a photo?

And finally, I just love this photo of a woman taking a ride in an aeroplane. Her first, perhaps?

I got this from Circantiques, my new favorite etsy store.

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, Collecting, Proper Clothing

Abercrombie & Fitch Summer Sport Styles 1939

I’m always happy to locate a catalog that features women’s sports clothing, especially when it’s from a company like Abercrombie & Fitch. This newest acquisition is from 1939, and I also have the winter 1938 edition. These are the only two I’ve ever seen, so I have no idea how long A&F put out this particular catalog.

If I ever get around to building that time machine, one place I definitely want to visit is the A&F flagship store that was located on Madison Avenue at 45th Street in New York City.  That would be true adventure shopping!

The copywriter lays it out straight – don’t expect frou-frou at Abercrombie & Fitch. But that does not mean the the clothing sold by A&F in the spring of 1939 was not fashionable.

The move toward the very strong shoulders associated with the 1940s had already begun, and you can clearly see it in the sleeves of these rayon and linen frocks. Insead of shoulder pads, the 1930s designer used deep pleats at the top of the sleeve to create the desired width.

By the end of the 1930s, fashionable length in tennis dresses had been abandoned in favor of shorter skirts that increased the players’ mobility.  I love the zipper in the sleeve of the dress on the left. I’ve never seen this feature in a blouse or dress. Usually what is seen is the split sleeve on the right. Both free the arms to make for a better swing.

The dress in the center is the same as the one on the cover. The buttons not only can be unfastened to allow the player to have a wider stride, according to the catalog it “unbuttons down each side so it may be laundered easily.”  All these dresses are available only in white.

Golf attire did not adopt the shorter skirt like the tennis dress. Golf does not require the long stride of tennis, and golf and country clubs tended to be very conservative spaces.  Only one of these dresses was available in white, as color was standard on the golf course.

It’s always amazing to realize how much more conservative swim and beachwear was in the late 1930s than in the late 20s and early 30s. All these suits except the one in the middle are made from woven fabrics, and most likely they all have zippers down the back.  The willowy beach pajamas of a few years earlier have been replaced with slacks.

Riding attire depended on where one was riding. The look on the left was appropriate  for Western ranch wear. The riding coat and jodhpurs were more suited for Eastern wear.

Here we have a selection of clothing for boating. The slacks suit in the middle was made from denim, but the one on the right was constructed of waterproof silk. It was also available in cotton sailcloth.

This page was titled, “Country Compromise”. One could wear her shorts and her skirt too. The set on the left is called an exercise suit, and comes with shorts beneath the skirt.

As much as I love the clothes, I’ll admit that this page of accessories is my favorite. Number 4 is a beach bag from Paris, and that’s a watch set into the wooden lid. Number 6 is described as lastex panties, to wear under sports clothing. And number 11 is a pouch to hold one’s golf incidentals.

 

 

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Filed under Advertisements, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

1918 Fleisher’s Knitting & Crocheting Manuel

The reason that old sayings tend to endure is that so often they are true. In this case, “You can’t judge a book by its cover” applies.  This dull brown cover gives little hint of the treasures within.

At over two hundred pages, the Fleisher’s Knitting and Crocheting Manuel is more than a basic how-to book. First of all, it’s an advertisement, as Fleisher’s was a brand of yarn. It’s also a book of knitting and crocheting patterns with garments for the entire family. And best of all, it’s a time capsule.

In 1918 the USA was involved in the Great War, now known as World War 1. There were a dozen patterns for garments and accessories for the man in service. Many were easy to make, and I’m sure many clubs and groups were busy making  Service Sweater, Type “C”, or mufflers and socks.

This cap and face protector and muffler in one was called a helmet, and was often mentioned in magazines of the period as a prized possession of many doughboys.

I learned how to crochet in high school (it was, after all, the crafty Seventies) but I really had no idea that so many stitches were possible beyond the standard single and double crochet, and the popcorn stitch. My eyes have been opened to the wonders of crocheting.

There’s a whole range of sweaters, all photographed in the out-of-doors – on the beach, in boats, on a woodsy walk.

One thing I really love about this book is how there are piece charts for many of the sweaters.

It’s not all sportswear. There are quite a few patterns for bed jackets, shawls, and “kimonos”. Even the bed jackets are called kimonos.

In 1918 it appears that the sizes of knitting needles and crochet hooks were not standardized.  Fleisher’s helped to solve the problem by numbering the metric diameter of each tool. I’m not sure that still applies because I measured my 10.5 knitting need and it has a diameter of  7mm.

One could either crochet or knit a tam.

By 1918 the middy blouse was wildly popular. I love the middy influence in this sweater.

While most of the sweaters have a waistband or belt, and definitely have an early Coco Chanel look, this one is looking forward to the more streamlined  Twenties.

Now, if only my skills were as good as these designs, I’d be making a sweater instead of just writing about them.

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Filed under Fashion Magazines, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Textiles