Category Archives: Proper Clothing

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Baumgarten has illustrated her book not only with pictures of garments, but also with the historical references that show similar garments as they were worn.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.

 

 

8 Comments

Filed under Currently Reading, Proper Clothing

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!

 

 

 

 

 

11 Comments

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.

 

 

 

 

14 Comments

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.

5 Comments

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

Harford Frocks Sales Cards, 1940s

I think most of us would be familiar with at least one company that marketed direct to consumers in their homes. Examples are Avon cosmetics, Longaberger baskets, and Fuller brushes.  In most cases the salespersons were (are, as some of these are still in business) not employees of the company, but were private contractors who took orders for a commission. There were also several companies that sold clothing. One was Doncaster, who first used members of the Junior League as their “fashion consultants”. Doncaster recently closed after eighty-seven years.

Another fashion company that used direst sales was Harford Frocks of Cincinnati. Consultants were usually women, especially homemakers who wanted to make a little extra money. Each consultant had a sales kit that included cards showing all the available styles. The best part was the attached fabric swatch on each card, allowing the customer to actually feel the fabric.

I haven’t spent a lot of time researching the company so I can’t give a complete history of the company. The president was Clarence Israel, who arrived in Cincinnati in the early 1930s. His papers are held by the American Jewish Archives, but there is probably not much about his time at Harford. His more important work was as a social activist, and he worked to benefit the Jewish community of Cincinnati.

There are several interesting tidbits I want to share, however. I couldn’t find any firm dates for when Harford was in business, but the best source for trying to figure it out was Pinterest. Lots of cards are on view there, with the earliest ones dating to the mid 1920s, and the latest to the mid 1960s.

The company advertised in cheap magazines and comics, and according to the ads, the consultant got a free dress for every three she sold. I also found ads in the want ads section of Popular Mechanics.

The company was located in what is today the American Sign Museum. In 1937 the Ohio flooded, and the building was damaged. They sued their insurance company because it would not pay for damages. The insurance company won the case.

I have thirty-seven cards, but they are double-sided. They are not dated, but the designs look to be 1946 ish to me.  There are all kinds of garments, including  socks for men and “Curve Curbers” (aka girdles). There are suits for women and a few designs for little girls. But by far the best represented garment is the frock.

Each design has a fabric swatch or two, and included are the sizes available. They had three size ranges, what we would today call juniors, misses and half sizes. Some of the designs went up to a 44 inch bust.

The designs marketed to the teen market often had novelty features, like the pockets above.

This two piece dress looks like it has Schiaparelli-inspired buttons, but look closer and you’ll see that the buttons are round, and the top of the notes are embroidered onto the jacket.

Noticeably absent are pants. These shorts were the only pants in the entire set, though I have no way of knowing if some cards, which may include pants suits, are missing.

There were several sundresses with jackets. The horse fabric is a printed pique.

This is a versatile set, but it would be even more so if a pair of shorts were included.

One of the best things about post-World War Two fashion was the return of lots of color. Note that even the shoes are a bright, cherry color.

Like so much of the clothing advertising in the first six decades of the twentieth century, the fabric was up front and featured. Bates was a well-known brand of textiles, and Harford was quick to point out the connection.

Pleated to capacity!

12 Comments

Filed under Advertisements, Collecting, manufacturing, Proper Clothing

Kleinert’s for 1961 Swim Caps – Beach Bags

I have always loved catalogs. I wasn’t too crazy about the Barbie I got for Christmas in 1962, but I loved that little catalog that came with it, the one showing her latest fashions. And the arrival of the yearly Sears Wish Book was a big event in the Adams household.

It amazes me that so many old catalogs have survived. Why would anyone keep a 1961 Kleinert’s swim cap catalog? After a season its usefulness is wiped out. When I was a kid, there were never stray catalogs nor newspapers nor magazines lying around. My mother kept a tight ship when it came to clutter, and her method of dealing with it was to get rid of it as soon as possible.

But I’m grateful for the savers – the people who didn’t mind a few old catalogs taking up space in their homes or business. The latest addition to my collection is a wholesale catalog. The shop owner chose what she or he thought would sell. The original owner of this catalog made notes in the margins such as, “Add 6 to order, natural only”.

An obvious benefit of having catalogs of the things one collects is that they help so much when trying to place a date on an object. I’m sure a lot of people must think that these fancy bathing caps disappeared at the end of the 1950s, but this catalog is full of them. The bathing cap covered with flowers must have been really popular because so many of them survive. Most are in bad shape. The caps tend to age quite well, but the attached flowers get all mashed out of shape when stored flat. I’ve even seen them melted and sticky.

The “Gamine” style is less common, but not really rare. I have one that is covered in shiny black “hair”.

I’d like to see someone with that much hair actually put that rubber cap on! That is a sweet cap though, with the braid trim and that flower on the back of the neck. And how about those rubber bangs on the Bouquet cap?

Here we are getting in rarer territory. I’ve never seen a gingham swim cap, not in reality nor in print. This gives me something to aspire to, preferably in turquoise.

But most of all, I need this Regatta swim cap in my life, along with the matching beach bag.

When I think of bathing caps, I think of old ladies round the pool in Florida. I must have gotten that from some movie I saw as a girl. My actual experience with bathing caps was short-lived. My local public pool and the summer camp I attended both required caps for girls, insisting that the long hair of girls got clogged in the filtration system. In the mid-1960s when boys started growing their hair longer, we girls rebelled, saying truthfully that many of the boys had longer hair than we did.

Of course, instead of making boys wear the caps, the rule for the girls was “forgotten”.

The catalog has much more than just swim caps. I think that this postcard beach tote is simply the best.

Some time ago a reader emailed a photo of one of these folding hats that she had. I’ll admit I was clueless about it, so seeing this one was a real treat, despite the very unfortunate name. I’ve forgotten who had this hat, but if you are still around and you still have it, I’m ready to buy!

And here’s a different take on the sunglasses hat. Again, this is a new one to me.

The catalog has several styles of hats that have an attached scarf to tie on the head. I have a fairly generic one that belonged to my mother-in-law, but how I’d love to have this one that just looks so Italian.

 

14 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

Anne Adams Sewing Patterns, Fall 1938

Anne Adams was the name of a sewing pattern company which sold their products through syndicated content in newspapers across America. I have seen Anne Adams patterns from the 1940s through the 1980s, but this catalog of designs is dated 1938. I added it to my archive because it was published by my hometown paper, the Asheville Citizen.

In looking through this catalog, I was struck by the big variety of lifestyles Anne Adams catered to. As you can see on the cover, there were evening gowns for those who had need of them. And while people might not think that women in a small city in the middle of the southern mountains would need a formal gown, there were plenty of events in Asheville that would make such a dress a necessity for many women.

On the other end of the spectrum was the house dress. A woman working at home during the day might not wear the three inch heels shown in the illustration, but I can remember that as late as the 1960s my grandmother and her three sisters always wore dresses similar to the ones pictured while doing their house cleaning, laundry, and cooking. All of them made these dresses out of cheerful prints in easy to clean cotton.

Here is a grouping of day dresses of a different sort. These were not for housework. They were for shopping or lunching, or perhaps for a club meeting.

In 1938, as it is today, the older woman is encouraged to look younger and thinner. Some things seem to never change.

For the truly young, there were campus fashions, starring the original teenage star, Deanna Durban.

The career woman was advised to make and wear separates which she could mix and match. The idea of separates is more associated with the 1950s, but it actually dates back much earlier, to at least the 1890s.

It’s pretty unlikely that in 1938 there was any skiing going on in the Asheville area, but a good, warm coat was needed. Interestingly, with the exception of pajamas, this was the only pair of pants offered for women. That was to change dramatically in just a few years.

And here are the other pants, in the form of pajamas. I can see where the width of the hems is starting to diminish from the extremely wide legs of the mid 1930s.

When I was coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s, one of the chief complaints of the girls in my school was that “fashion” here was two years behind what we saw in the fashion magazines. I’ve come to realize that our own conservatism had more to do with that than what was available to us. Even in 1938, women in the mountains of North Carolina could buy patterns of what was fashionable in other markets.

5 Comments

Filed under North Carolina, Proper Clothing, Viewpoint