I am always looking for accessories to complete my sporting ensembles. One thing I never pass up in an antique store is a rack of hats. Ninety-nine percent of the time the rack will be full of hats from the 1960s. I have a theory, that when hats began to lose favor in the late 60s women stored their old hats instead of investing in new ones. What else could account for the abundance of 60s hats at estate sales and antique stores?
But this post is about that rarest of hat finds – the pre-1960s sports hat. I gave a little happy dance when I spotted this little red tam among all the faux turbans and pillbox hats.
Items like this hat that were worn for decades with little change in the style, so they can be hard to date from that alone. Fortunately there were a couple of things that let me know this tam dated from around 1910 to the 1920s. First, the seams were finished using a Merrow overlock machine. The stitch is similar to a modern serger, but it is easy to see the difference. I see it a lot in pre-1930 knit bathing suits.
Second, the band of the tam is in a type of machine knit that is commonly seen on knit items from this era. I have a pair of navy blue mittens in the same type knit.
In looking at catalogs and other illustrated sources from the 1910s and 20s, the tam is the hat worn by most women for winter sports. The illustration above is from a 1921 Bradley catalog.
This illustration is on a late Edwardian postcard.
And this one is from the mid to late 1920s. It fits a bit closer to the head, and might even be called a toboggan.
Another factor that contributes to the scarcity of early knits is that so many of them were consumed by moth larvae. Thankfully, this one somehow escaped the hungry little buggers.
When searching for items to add to my collection, I focus primarily on things made and worn in the USA. But by the time this Lillywhites catalog was published in London in 1935, Western fashion was becoming less regional. Anyway, that’s how I justified adding this catalog to my print resources.
In 1935 skiing was a relatively new sport, in the States at least. This catalog from the UK references skiing in Norway, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany, so it must have really caught on as a sport on the Continent. And I can see a bit of Tyrolian influence in the clothes, especially in the accessories. Could there be a connection to the fashion for Germanic styles that started to appear in Western dress around this time?
Note the strong asymmetrical jacket closures. This was a big feature of mid-1930s fashion and it extended to sportswear. Also, the knickers of 1920s women skiers are gone, replaced by warmer long trousers.
Ski trips to the Alps or to Scandinavia were so new that Lillywhites felt it necessary to give some instructions to the novice. There are also lists of clothing and gear needed for a holiday in the snow.
This novel skiing motif was available in both wool and cashmere, and in white with blue, navy with white, and white with red.
This is probably my favorite.
Skating costumes (along with skates of all types) were included. The style on the right is actually “skorts”, and was recommended for practice wear.
Another presentation that focused on the history of southwestern Kentucky was given by Donna Parker, recently retired from the Western Kentucky University Library. Like most Americans, I knew of the great Mammoth Cave system, but it was a real surprise to learn that for close to a century, women visitors to the cave wore a special costume provided by the owners of the cave.
The cave was well-known by the 1840s. It was just one of many natural wonder destinations that well-off tourists traveled to experience, along with Niagara Falls, the Natural Bridge of Virginia, the Hudson River Valley, and New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Early on it must have been obvious that fashionable dress was dangerous in the cave. The owners developed a woman’s costume, consisting of a shortened dress with bloomers or trousers worn beneath.
The wearing of these costumes is well-documented in photographs, diaries, letters, and personal travel accounts. Many women expressed embarrassment at being forced to wear trousers, others saw it as just part of the experience.
The Kentucky Museum has an exhibition on Mammoth Cave, and in it they included this photograph of a woman visitor. You can barely see the trousers beneath her skirt. One of the best sources of information were the photos taken of visitors to the cave. The WKU Library Special Collections has a nice selection of these, dating from the 1850s to the 1930s when the practice of providing costumes ended.
Kentucky Museum and Library Digital Collection
This photo is from the digital collection of the Kentucky Museum. Though undated, this photo is from around 1905, and maybe as late as 1912 or so. It’s interesting in how the costume has changed. The skirt was abandoned, the bloomers shortened. It could be that these women were accustomed to wearing bathing suits, were at that time were very similar to the cave costume.
Unfortunately, the museum has not been able to locate any extant cave costumes. It’s possible that as things changed and women became more accustomed to wearing bloomers, the oldest costumes were remade into the more abbreviated versions seen above. At any rate, there was a fire in 1916 at the Mammoth Cave Hotel, and it is possible the remaining costumes were destroyed then.
I like to think that somewhere, in an obscure collection, a Mammoth Cave costume still exists. The problem is one of identification. How would one distinguish the cave costume seen in the first photograph from a bloomer outfit worn by a dress reformer? How could the bloomers in the third photograph be distinguished from a 1905 gymnasium suit? I’m not sure it could be done.
I can only hope that somewhere one rests in a box with a note attached, confirming the garment as the elusive cave costume.
There was also a trend toward nautical themes. The short “Oriental” pants were replaced by so-called “Gob” trousers, gob being slang for “sailor”.
A 1930 article in Good Housekeeping reported:
“Beach fashions are distinctly masculine. A marked change has occurred in beach attire, for smart women are forsaking fancy pajama suits for long, wide, sailor-like trousers… In their smartest version these trousers feature a fullness set in at the knee.”
These one-piece beach pajamas remained in fashion through the mid-1930s. In 1931 Good Housekeeping declared, “Pajamas are never smarter. For the beach they are comfortable and feminine in colorful combinations of linen, shantung, or jersey.”
The evolution of beach pajamas was complete, but it’s worth noting that pajamas did not stay on the beach. Brave women like Mrs. Joseph Walton, “[wore] a velveteen jacket, a light crepe overblouse, and dark trousers…” on the streets of Palm Beach in 1929.
By 1930 middle class and wealthy women were already wearing pants in the form of knickers for hiking, breeches for riding, and bloomers for gymnasium. But pajamas wearing on the beach was different in that women of most economic classes could participate. Cotton beach pajamas were cheap to buy and even cheaper to sew at home. Pattern companies like McCall’s, Butterick, and Pictorial Review sold pajama patterns for the home sewer.
Oregon farm girl Cecilia Nordstrom showed off her new pajamas in 1933. She later recalled, “Frivolous is lounging pajamas when you live on a farm. No one has time to lounge.” Nevertheless, she ordered this one from a catalog, and she looks quite pleased with it.
Pajamas-wearing was also different in the public nature of the beach. No longer confined to the school gym or the hiking and riding trails, beach pajamas were women in trousers in view of large crowds of people. Pants for women were here to stay, even though it would be several more decades before women wore pants for more than work or very casual occasions.
1924 saw beach pajamas spreading across European beach resorts, and were even worn by a few brave souls on Florida sands. In her memoir, Jane Fisher, wife of the developer of Miami Beach, recalled an incident that happened in 1924:
Colonel CT Melville, the international polo player, … wrote a book in which he expressed delight over such Miami Beach surprises as “…strawberries for breakfast at Christmas and being driven about by a lady wearing pajamas.” I was the lady in pajamas – as startling in the early ‘twenties, even in freedom-loving Miami Beach, as my form-fitting bathing suit had five years before.”
For the most part, 1924 was a year of debate in the United States fashion press. During that year Women’s Wear began mentioning pajamas not only in their negligee column, but also in the sportswear section.
The question of whether or not American women would wear trousers in public in the form of pajamas was answered by Vogue in January, 1925. “Usually made of gay printed [silk]… they are seen during the sunny hours between bathing and dressing when one loiters on the sand. European beaches have seen them in large numbers, and, now, Newport and Palm Beach are witnessing the beginnings of their success.”
Not that Vogue‘s proclamation was universal. In February, 1925, Women’s Wear printed a report from Palm Beach saying “Palm Beach Visitors Do Not Adopt Beach Pajamas.” The mayor of Atlantic City, NJ went so far as to ban pajamas from the beach before the 1925 season, saying, “…we could not allow anything like that.”
In 1926 beach pajamas went from being an uncertainty to being mentioned favorably in most Women’s Wear articles on the subject. They wrote in March, 1926, “…as the season advances, beach pajamas are seen in greater numbers and variety.” Even shops in Atlantic City were advertising them. Beach pajamas had truly arrived.
Although pajamas were sleepwear first and sportswear second, they did follow the rules of fashion. In the 1920s when the straight garcon look dominated, pajamas had a similar silhouette consisting of short trousers with a sleeveless tunic, often with a matching robe. They were often in bright colors with art deco or Asian designs. They were usually made of silk, but the more practical cotton began appearing as well.
When fashion began to change toward curvier, longer lines in 1927, so did pajamas. A Women’s Wear report in 1927 informed readers that “Both beach and lounging ensembles are characterized by the adoption of long trousers…”
At the same time, bathing suits were getting smaller, with the newest styles featuring a very low scooped back. Some French designers, in particular Mary Nowitzky, developed an abbreviated top for her beach pajamas, much like the tank top of today. This top was not a tunic, but instead was meant to be tucked into the waist of the pants.
It was just a short time until designers realized that making the beach pajamas as a one-piece garment would allow them more easily to include the bare suntan back. This idea developed into a wide-legged one-piece garment that highly resembled a long flowing dress. This one-piece pajama was sleeveless, usually had a bare back with a scooped or V-neck front, and very wide trousers. They were increasingly made of brightly printed cottons.
Tomorrow, the exciting conclusion of Pajamas for Women.
The style did not catch on as outerwear, but increasingly it was marketed as lingerie. When famous actresses began wearing pajamas on stage, manufacturers were alerted to this by Women’s Wear.
By the middle of 1911 a trade report from Cincinnati said, “Manufacturers of shirtwaists and pajamas say the trade is quite good…” And James McCreery & Co. on 34th Street in New York City had “silk pajamas for women” in their shop windows. Copy in the 1912 spring-summer catalog from Greenhut-Seigal Cooper declared, “Pajamas are growing more popular with women every year.
By WWI, pajamas were not just for sleeping. They were advertised as loungewear, and Women’s Wear categorized them as negligee. They were even suggested as “an excellent tea gown”. These early women’s pajamas were two pieces like men’s but were feminized most often by being made of pastel colored silk, elaborately decorated with lace and embroidery.
Around 1914 a new idea in women’s pajamas emerged – the one-piece jumpsuit type. These became very popular after actress Billie Burke wore them in a film in 1916. She became so associated with the style that one-piece pajamas were called Billie Burkes until they fell out of favor around 1920.
Even after pajamas had been made for women for a decade, articles in Women’s Wear show that manufacturers worried they were just a fad. As manufacturer R.F. Raskid said in 1917, “I consider [pajamas] as merely a passing fad, that will have worn itself out in the course of a few months…” But pajamas, along with bifurcated workwear like overalls and coveralls, gained favor during the years of WWI because they were practical. And while overalls for women did decrease in popularity after the war ended, women did not give up their pajamas.
In 1919, Women’s Wear declared, “For lounging and the care-free hours, pajamas are at present favored by the best dressed women. They have freedom, are comfortable, and offer a wide variety of styles.” By 1919 pajamas were mentioned almost daily in the sleepwear section of Women’s Wear. They were no longer a novelty.
In writing about pajamas, Women’s Wear continued to refer to them in “Oriental” terms like Persian, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Turkish. Historian Victoria Pass has been conducting research into what Paul Poiret seemed to know in 1911 – that the Orientalist tropes used to market pajamas with trousers to women connected pajamas to “the exotic other”, making the masculine nature of the pants less of an issue.
Until 1922, women for the most part confined their pajamas-wearing to their homes. But in July of that year Women’s Wear published a startling new use for pajamas. “Silk Pajamas on the Beach – A New Use for the Silk Pajamas that have long been Manufactured and Used for Negligee Purposes Is Shown in the Accompanying Photograph. This bather, after her dip, has slipped on the pajamas as a protection from sunburn.” The location was unnamed, but later reports identified it as the Lido in Venice, Italy.
It was not until fall of 1923 that Women’s Wear asked its readers, “Will American Women Adopt Pajamas for the Beach?” A few months later Women’s Wear first used the term, beach pajamas.
I’m back from the Costume Society of America Southeast Region Symposium, and I’m pleased to share here my paper that I read. I’ll post it over the course of four days. I hope you enjoy it.
In the mid-1920s a new fad traveled from Italian beaches to those in the United States – that of pajamas as beach attire. It was not new for women to wear bifurcated garments for sports and as underwear, but pajamas for women were relatively new in the 1920s. So how and why did women take to wearing their newly adopted sleepwear on the beach?
Even men in the US and most parts of Europe did not begin sleeping in pajamas until the 1870s. Most likely the first Westerners to adapt the Indian Pay- jama as night and loungewear were Englishmen living in India. In 1878 Harper’s Bazar reported, “The loose Japanese costume called the Pajamas has been adapted [by men] as a nightgown, for lounging in the daytime and in midsummer it is worn to board yachts.”
(Of course, the garment was Indian, not Japanese, but at least they got the continent right.)
The first reference I have found to American women wearing pajamas was a comment in an 1895 newspaper article that referenced women’s pajamas in fashion plates. Over the next decade there were occasional references to and ads for women’s pajamas in American newspapers, but not until the summer of 1905 does one see any multiple sources advertising pajamas for women. That year a syndicated sewing pattern for women’s pajamas was for sale in many US newspapers, and some department stores advertised readymade pajamas for Christmas gift giving.
A 1905 article that ran in many American newspapers titled “Pajamas Healthful”, had the following to say about women wearing pajamas:
“Women everywhere, the country over, and in city and country alike, do wear nightgowns, as they have long, if not always have done. Do women wear pajamas in these days? Well, some, but not many.
“It was a little fad to wear them, for a time, and there are some women who now wear them; but their number is not large, and the custom is not growing.”
In 1906 Good Housekeeping magazine offered for sale a sewing pattern for “Lady’s Pajamas”. In the description for the pattern was this line: “The upper part of the pajamas is cut in the broad Mandarin style and the sleeve is loose at the bottom, also reminding one of that Eastern garb.” There didn’t seem to be a big demand for women’s pajamas until 1911 judging by the lack of ads for them in Women’s Wear, the forerunner of Women’s Wear Daily, and in their absence in clothing catalogs. So what happened that convinced American women to wear what was considered, in the West anyway, a man’s garment?
For one thing, in 1911 French designer Paul Poiret introduced what he called harem pants, a design based on a pants style worn by Middle Eastern men and some women. By making a reference to the “Oriental” and not to the Western men’s trousers, he made it seem as though the woman was emulating the exotic “Oriental” and not her own husband or father.