Category Archives: Proper Clothing

Bradley Knits: Slip Into a Bradley and Out-of-Doors

I’ve been posting photos from these two 1920s catalogs on Instagram, and realized I’ve not even taken the time to write about them here.  Bradley Knitting Company is one of my all time favorite companies.  They had a very long and rich history, and there is still plenty of material left to make collection of it interesting.

Bradley Knitting Company was located in Delavan, Wisconsin, established in 1904.  They made all kinds of woolen knit goods, including swimming suits, sweaters, and other sports apparel.  This company was very important to the small town of Delavan as it was their chief employer, with 1200 persons working there when the company was at its peak.  In fact, they often had to advertise in larger cities in order to keep enough workers.  It was a thriving business.

I’m not sure when the company closed, but the last label we have on the VFG Label Resource is from the 1960s.  The mill building was, unfortunately, demolished in 2003 which is a real shame considering that today the repurposing of old mills is a thriving business.

My two new catalogs were a lucky ebay find.  One is a winter 1922 booklet, and the other is undated.  It is a bit later, and very likely dates from summer 1925.

The winter 1922 catalog features a lot of sweaters, but it also has accessories such as knit hats and scarves.  All the garments were modeled and photographed on living models, but it appears that they used some old-fashioned photoshopping for the finished pages.

Several years ago Richard York kindly sent to me some photos of his grandmother, Mabel Jennie Gross, who was a model for Bradley during the early to mid 1920s.  You can click through the link I provided to see these photos, which show Mabel in various poses.  It appears to me that the company making the catalogs colorized the photos of the models, and then arranged them in vignettes for each page.  A background was then painted in.

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I love the fancy sweaters on the right, but of even more interest are the two at the bottom left.  These are jersey knit middies, a garment I’ve never seen.  The middy is usually made of  cotton duck or canvas.

The top photo looks like a group of young people on an outing in the snow, but my guess is that this is a composite picture with a fake background.

The later catalog is undated, but features mainly swimsuits.  The introduction has a hint: “For twenty odd years Bradley has been setting the style.”  The firm started in 1904, and the styles look to be right in the middle of the 1920s decade.

By this time, the knit bathing suit had pretty much taken over the swimsuit market.  The old fashioned swim dress with bloomers was simply not in step with the sleek 1920s look.

I have seen a lot of 1920s wool knit bathing suits.  Most have varying degrees of moth damage, and probably ninety percent of them are solid in color like the three at the top left.  Also fairly common are ones like the red model with the stripe at the bottom.

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But occasionally, a real masterpiece appears on the market.  Here are Bradley’s special models, all shown on Hollywood actors.  I have seen photos of the deck of cards suit shown on Anita Stewart at the top.  I wish it were mine.

These fancy suits cost between $8 and $9.50, as compared to the plain suits which started at $3.

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One of the big problems sellers of 1920s bathing suits seem to have is telling if a suit was made for a woman or for a man.  By carefully examining these photos you can see that the main difference is in the size of the armholes.  A woman’s suit will have smaller holes, while the tops of men’s suits were not as modest.  The skirt is still present on most men’s and women’s suits, but the plain trunk style is emerging.  Even a few styles for women, called the “tomboy” suit, were missing the skirt.

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It looks like the V-neck pullover had taken over as the style for sweaters by the middle of the decade.

I looked carefully at the faces of the models, hoping to spot Mabel, but I couldn’t make a positive identification.  I did spot one of the sweaters she was wearing, but in a different pose.  I suppose that the model could be Mabel.

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Filed under Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Winter Sports

1930s Chenille Bathing Suit Cover-up Cape

During a recent lucky streak, I ran across this fantastic cape, which is a bathing suit cover-up.  It is made from machine-made chenille, a fabric that started out as the product of a cottage industry in northern Georgia.  Based around the town of Dalton, Georgia, home workers began making hand tufted bedspreads to sell to travelers going south on the newly finished Dixie Highway.  A local textile mill, Crown Cotton, provided the base material, which is a heavy muslin-type fabric.  By 1910 the homeworkers were setting up stands along the highway to sell to the growing tourist travelers.

In 1917 a manufacturing process was set up. and some of the tufting was done by machine.  Hand tufting was still being done, but it was increasingly mechanized.  At first the product was just bedcovers, but by the 1920s some garments, such as bathrobes and beach wear, were also being made.

I can remember seeing the bedspread stands as a child traveling to visit relatives in the far western reaches of North Carolina and on the road to Atlanta.  Some of the designs were quite bizarre – wildly colored peacocks spring to mind.  And occasionally a stand can be spotted even today, but for the most part, the chenille factories converted to carpets years ago.

I can’t say a lot about the origin of the cape.  There is a small, handwritten label, that looks more like a collections number than anything else.  Could this cape have been in a collection before becoming a part of mine?  It is possible.

I do have two more chenille garments, one a bedjacket and the other a shorter cape.  None of them have  makers labels of any kind.

The neckline is gathered with a cotton robe tie.  There is an extra row of red chenille for decoration.

The back of the gathering.

I don’t have any photos showing a chenille cape, but I did find this jacket.  It is dated July 1939, Mountain Lake, New Jersey.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Southern Textiles, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

1970s Andreno Argenti Golf Themed Sweater

I had been meaning to pick up a Seventies sports themed novelty sweater for some time, but never quite found the right one at the right price.  But several weeks ago I ran across this one that had all the correct boxes ticked.  It was blue, golf-themed, and priced nicely.

This type of sweater is a bit of a puzzle to me, mainly because I do not remember them from my younger days.  Maybe it was because I was in high school and college during the years these seem to have been made, and our tastes were a little more hippie.  Or maybe it was because I was not a part of the golfing set.  For whatever reason  I don’t remember this trend at all, and these sweaters were not limited to golf themes.  What seem to be the two biggest producers, Andreno Argenti and Cyn Les, both manufactured in Taiwan and all the sweaters were made from acrylic.  The large majority of Argenti sweaters I found were golf themed, but Cyn Les did a wide variety of these, some of which had sayings embroidered on the sleeves.

I’ve looked at a lot of these lately in the sales pages of etsy and ebay.  Some sellers have them listed as 1950s, especially a cardigan version.  But I think that the Taiwan manufacture and the acrylic fiber points to the late Sixties and into the Seventies.  I don’t mind being contradicted if any reader has a better memory of these.  At any rate, mine is from the early Seventies, with that scooped neck and long, skinny line of the torso.

I can never seem to get the color right in my photos, but here are close-ups of the machine embroidery.  It was actually very nicely done.

 

 

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Filed under Novelty Prints, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Your Cleaner Is Your Clothes’ Best Friend

It’s not the heat… It’s the humidity?

I recently ran across a small collection of consumer brochures from the National Institute of Drycleaning, each dating between 1949 and 1959.  They are interesting because of the information about 1950s fabrics that is contained in them.

Today’s fabrics are often blends of natural and man-made fibers and are designed to control issues such as humidity and wrinkling.  But in the 1950s synthetic fibers were still new, and were often unpredictable.  Enter the local dry cleaner, there to solve all the problems of modern textiles.

You’ll prize your bright red clothing more “because colors do not fade in drycleaning!”  And you’ll be “happy and gay with your bias cut… until a shower or cleaning brings your skirt up!”  Luckily, “your drycleaner may be able to stretch it back to shape.”

“Drycleaning results in the least degree of change in the original size and measurement.”  *This change depends upon fabric construction, naturally.

Chiffon may be for the soft look, but the brochure got very technical in its explanation of how the fabric was made.  And contrary to what some people might have believed, chiffon was explained to be a weave, not a fiber.

By the 1950s metallic fabrics had been around for a very long time, but their care must have still been confusing to consumers.  The brochure suggests that one play it safe and take metallic fabrics to a drycleaner.

Before care instructions were sewn into clothing, many garments came with hang tags that contained care directions.  This brochure on jersey knits reminded consumers to save the hang tags.

And finally, consumers were reminded not to take chances with pigment printed fabrics.

Because the brochures were numbered, I know there were at least sixty-three of them written and published.  Most are credited to Dr. Dorothy Siegert Lyle of the Consumer Education Division. Dr. Lyle had been a professor of home economics at Ohio State.  In 1947 she was employed by the National Institute of Drycleaning, where she developed this series of pamphlets which were distributed to home ec students and to consumers by way of department stores.  Dr. Lyle also wrote several books on textiles and clothing.

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Filed under Proper Clothing

In the Snow, 1952

I recently read an interesting quote by The New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman: “Everyone who gets dressed thinks about fashion.”  And while I couldn’t find the quote in context, to me it brings up the idea that being concerned with one’s dress is not for the serious-minded among us.  In other words, fashion is fluff.

The woman in today’s photo may or may nor be a fashionable person, but she is obviously concerned with her style of dress.  Before you go out into the cold weather, throwing on anything that will keep you warm, think about this woman and how she styled herself for the cold.

She limited herself to two colors – pink and black – plus white.  Since her jacket was pink, she chose a black with white snowflake sweater.  Around her neck she tied a black and white scarf.

I suppose the obvious choice for gloves would have been black, but she went with a darker pink with white mittens.

But probably my favorite thing about this snow ensemble is the choice of socks.  How wonderful are those pink socks!

The 1950s are often thought of as a time when everything had to match, but we forget that “matching” can happen in many different ways.  She didn’t do for all pink accessories because the little touch of black at her neck created more contrast and is more interesting visually.

I do have one concern.  For someone who is so stylishly yet appropriately dressed, where the heck is her cap?

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Filed under Proper Clothing, Vintage Photographs, Winter Sports

Knickerbockers for Women: From Under the Hiking Skirts to the Fad of the Hour – Part IV

By 1917 many women were also wearing some form of pants as needed for their work during World War One.  Mass market retail and sewing pattern catalogs offered a variety of overall and work pants for women.  But after the war ended, these patterns and garments quietly disappeared from catalogs.  The skirt convention seemed to have overruled practically in women’s work dress.

But in the woods, knickers and breeches had pretty much put the skirt issue to rest.  Most articles that I found on the subject between 1918 and 1930 mentioned an overskirt only as an afterthought, if it was mentioned at all.  In 1920 writer and outdoorswoman Nancy B. Katz wrote in Outers-Recreation magazine that the skirted woman in the woods was obsolete.

By 1921 some brave women were wearing knickers for other sports, especially golf.  The September 1, 1921 issue of Vogue showed a suit of knickers and matching long vest and declared, “This costume allows for greater freedom, whether for golfing or walking, than almost any other type of sports suit.”

The knicker suit was soon seen in stores ranging from Lord and Taylor to Sears Roebuck. There was even a popular brand of knickers called “The Fad of the Hour.”

So how did knickers for women leave the hiking trails to become a fad?  Many women had become somewhat accustomed to wearing some form of pants, whether in the woods, in the school gymnasium, on the job during the war, or even in the form of a bathing suit.  It may also have something to do with the 1920s idea of woman as garçonne, as dressing for women took on touches of the masculine.

In 1926 Vogue published a slightly tongue-in-cheek article titled, “They Are Stealing Our Stuff!” Author George S. Chappell lamented that feminine fashions were more masculine than not, and that “…hordes of khaki-clad [women]  hikers… throng our summer byways.”

His complaint was too little, too late.  Women were wearing knickers, not only for hiking, but for other casual occasions and for motor-car travel.

Here is a family group in front of the State Capitol in Augusta, Maine, circa 1925.  The young woman on the right is dressed more like her father than her mother.  If not for the cloche hat we might have mistaken her for a boy.

By the mid 1920s pants for women were here to stay, though it would be several more decades before women could freely wear pants on any occasion.  The knickers-wearing girls of the 1920s became the pantsuit–wearing grandmothers of the 1970s, who had learned years earlier the comfort and practicality of pants.

I hope that everyone enjoyed my presentation.  I appreciate all your comments, and especially ant additional information that may add to this story.  The history of women wearing pants is a complicated one with many contributing factors to the end result.  I’ll be continuing to investigate this fascinating story.

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, Proper Clothing, Sportswear

Knickerbockers for Women: From Under the Hiking Skirts to the Fad of the Hour – Part III

By the turn of the 20th century, knickers or breeches under a short, wide skirt became the hiking outfit most mentioned in magazine articles.  There were some exceptions, most notably an article written by outdoorswoman Annie Peck.  In 1895 Peck became the third woman to climb the Matterhorn, but she was the first to do so without wearing a skirt.  In her day Annie Peck was well-known, her adventures being widely reported.  In 1901 she wrote an article for Outing magazine detailing her climbing and hiking outfit and expressing strong views about the inappropriateness of skirts on mountains.

“…Men, we all know, climb in knickerbockers… Women, on the contrary, will declare that a skirt is no hindrance to their locomotion.  This is obviously absurd, and though a few ladies have climbed mountains like the Matterhorn in extremely scanty and abbreviated skirts, I dare assert that suitably-made knickerbockers… are not only more comfortable but more becoming… A scant skirt barely reaching the knee and showing the knickerbockers below, such as some ladies have worn, is as ungraceful a costume as could be devised; and for a woman in difficult mountaineering to waste her strength and endanger her life with a skirt is foolish in the extreme.”

But even the independent Ms. Peck had to concede to the skirt convention when on easier hikes.

“Among our own little mountains it is customary to wear a short skirt… If ladies were independent enough to adopt the plan, as some few have done, of leaving the skirt under a rock, they would generally be seen only by members of their own party… Of course in any case knickerbockers should be worn beneath.”

It seems as if women took Peck’s advice.  In a 1904 article in Outing, hiker Rena Phillips described how she had a big pocket put on the back of her jacket so when out of sight of civilization she could remove the skirt and place it in the pocket.  For the next ten years or so, the knickers and removable skirt seemed to be the most popular option, being mentioned in numerous articles and accounts.  One writer in 1913 claimed she rarely wore her hiking skirt but always carried it with her as it was useful as a rain cape.

As strong as the skirt convention was, it was being challenged by 1916.  In that year William J. Whiting wrote an article for Outing titled “Should the Woman in the Woods Wear Skirts, Bloomers, Riding Breeches, or Knickerbockers?” He argued that the wearing of skirts in the woods was a form of false modesty.

“The skirt is useless, is in fact a positive hindrance, and so by its very presence calls attention to the fact that she is a woman, and modest, or trying to be, thus defeating its object.  Anyone who has seen an emancipated woman dancing over rough trails in glee at her freedom… with no useless freak of costume to call attention to her femininity rejoices that so many now recognize that immodesty of attire is really unsuitability.”

 

Whiting went on to declare that only knickers were suitable for hiking.

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, Proper Clothing, Sportswear