Category Archives: Proper Clothing

1940s French Bikini

I love bathing suits, and I have become very picky about the ones I chose to collect. The early French bikini above is the sort of find that keeps me excited about collecting.

When I say early, I mean late 1940s. In 1946 designer Jacques Heim released his tiny two-piece and called it L’ Atome. Shortly afterward, Louis Réard designed what he called the Bikini. Both suits were tiny and showed the navel, and even though Heim’s was released slightly earlier than Réard’s, the name Bikini stuck.

A 1940s bikini has been on my want list for a long time. They are rare  in the USA, as the suit was just too skimpy for most American women of the post-war period. Last year an example by Heim came up for auction. I crossed my fingers and made the biggest bid I could, hoping it would fly under the radar of other collectors. It did not, and in the end sold for almost $10,000. This was a bit over my budget.

But then the suit above came into my life. I first spotted it on the seller’s Instagram (Skirt Chaser Vintage), and then bought it when it came up for sale.

Many of the early French bikinis laced and tied at the sides. This was not new, as several American swimsuit makers used this feature on their larger suit briefs during the war. Daring bathers could buy the suit a bit snug and then lace loosely to show a bit more skin.

The French took the idea to a whole new level. Some of Louis Réard’s suits were actually string bikinis, with no sides at all – only the string ties.

The map of France print is a great touch. The fabric is interesting, and unexpected. It’s a cotton textured barkcloth, more suitable for curtains than a swimsuit. But this was after the war, and fabric production was not back to pre-war levels. One used what one had.

I came up completely empty when attempting to find out anything at all about the label, Lavog. If anyone has any information about it, I’d be forever grateful.

In 1948 Holiday magazine printed an amazing photo-essay on the changing bathing suit. Leading off the article was this photograph.  The caption reads:

Such brief suits, unfortunately, are not ordinarily for sale. They must be custom built for custom-built girls like Sandra Spence.

The essay features other two-piece suits, but all have navel-covering shorts. It would be another fifteen to twenty years before the bikini really caught on in the US.

 

 

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

Jantzen Catalogs, 1958

I recently found two Jantzen catalogs for retailers from 1958. Actually, they are from the Canadian division of Jantzen.  By the 1950s Jantzen was an international company that had manufacturing plants all over the world. I don’t know if there were major differences in the products made in the United States and those made in other countries, but my guess is that most of them were similar.

I love how the catalog shows all the garments available in each line. I would be happier if the photos were in color, as the item descriptions for this print are not of much use, reading simply, multicolor.  It’s interesting that the bold black stripe is vertical on the skirt, but horizontal on the pants.

Look carefully at the details. The collar of the black blouse is made from the print fabric. And the legs of the shorts and pedal pushers has the diving girl logo. I’ve never seen the logo on anything other than bathing suits.

Some of the lines had many more pieces. This is the Sailor Stripe Group, which was available in red, blue, brown, and black with white stripes.

Retailers could purchase Jantzen-branded garment forms and other display materials such as the poster you see to the right.

A big trend in late 1950s sportswear was the use of plaid or tartan. The tartans used were Black Stewart, Black Watch, Clooney, and Menzies.  Judging by the existence of so many of these bathing suits today, the plaids must have been very popular.

The plaid trend continued for Fall ’58. Jantzen had a large range of separates made from wool and from Viyella, a combination of wool and cotton. There were seven different tartans in the fall offerings.

The catalog also featured many different wool sweaters. Jantzen started as the Portland Knitting Company, and though the wool bathing suit was no longer the choice of most swimmers, the knitting mills were busy making wool sweaters and dresses.

The fall catalog has a more distinctly Canadian flair, with the Totem pole on the cover, and a curling cardigan for sale inside the catalog. I can help but wonder if the same sweater was offered for sale in the US, but marketed simply as a sports sweater.

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Filed under Fashion Magazines, Proper Clothing, Sportswear

How I Collect

One question I get a lot of is do I ever display any of my collection. The answer to that is, “No,” as I’m a collector, not a museum. But it did occur to me that if I were displaying my collection, I’d want to show it the way I collect. By that I mean that I don’t collect piecemeal, but rather, I collect as if assembling ensembles that might have actually been worn by a woman of the era.

I’ve been slowly taking photos of these ensembles and posting them on Instagram, but as I know many of you do not take part in social media, I thought I’d post them here as well. First up are clothes and accessories from 1915-1919.

Above is a 1918ish bathing dress. I bought it years ago in a local antiques mall that had it labeled as a child’s victorian dress. Nope.  There were no knickers, but that’s not a problem as I have several pairs of wool knickers from the same era. The cap was an eBay find from about 2007.  I can’t imagine finding one today. The boots also came from eBay, at about the same time. The Ayvad Water Wings came from the collection of a kindred spirit.

This is what the well-dressed post-Edwardian woman wore for tennis. The middy blouse was made by the  “Jack Tar Middy” brand. When I found it I was not sure the heart-shaped smocking was original to the piece, but I later found an ad showing the smocking. The sports skirt is unlabeled, and it has very deep pockets that are perfect for tennis balls. The boots are Keds. I need a hat.

The skirt and sailor blouse were another lucky eBay find from about twelve years ago. I think it was seamstress made, especially with the hand embroidery in dark blue. The hat is labeled “New York Hat Works” and has silk ribbons and a silk covered button on top of the crown. The handbag is linen fabric embroidered in silk and is most likely homemade.

This outing ensemble is one of my favorites, and as a special thanks to you Vintage Traveler readers, this one has not yet been posted on Instagram. This set started with the skirt, which was a gift some years ago from friend Amanda in Vermont. Like the twill cotton blouse, it is unlabeled. The rucksack was a lucky Goodwill find. It’s from Abercrombie’s Camp. The gauntlet gloves are stamped, “The Buccaneer by Speare” and I found them at a flea market. And again, I need a hat.

I’ll be posting more as I get them photographed. Next up are the early 1920s.

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing

The Fall Hat Box, 1911, Muhlfelder’s of Albany and Troy, New York

After buying the little purse catalog that was shaped like a purse, how could I resist a hat catalog shaped like a hat box? And even better, this little booklet proves to be a memento of an important event in a woman’s life – that of her wedding.

The owner of the booklet recorded the date of the wedding…

along with her new name and address.

This is a very good clue that Mrs. Klee’s first name was Rose, and the 1930 census provided a record of George and Rose Klee living in Troy. The 1940s census has George and Rose still living at 2231 Burdett Avenue in Troy with their son, daughter and son-in-law, and granddaughter.

On another page is the name Rose Ney. And yes, this is the same Rose, as Ancestry.com has her as Rose Ney Klee, born in 1890. There is even a photograph of Rose.  Rose lived to be 96 years of age.

Rose got married in the era of the huge hat. Think Titanic or My Fair Lady. I hope she had a suitably large hat for her wedding.

Muhlfelder’s was established by Jonas Muhlfelder, a German-Jewish immigrant. He worked in the wholesale millinery business in Albany before setting up his own stores for ladies around the turn of the twentieth century. The Albany Institute of History and Art has a fantastic photo of the millinery department of the Albany store.

Veils were for mourning, and also for motoring.

Most of these hats required not only a big pile of hair, but also a very long hat pin. Still, looking at photos of women in hats of this era makes me wonder how they balanced it all. It must have been a big relief to pull out the pin and place the hat on its stand.

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Filed under Advertisements, Proper Clothing

Bathing Suit Timeline

A recent project has been developing a timeline of bathing suits from the 1860s through the 1920s. From looking at the sales pages and such on the internet, it seems to me that such a timeline might be useful to people trying to place a date on older suits. I’ll be adding to what I’ve got here and will eventually make a permanent page on my long neglected Fuzzylizzie.com site.

For now, here’s a chronological view of sixty years of bathing suit styles, with date and source, but no commentary.

1864, Godey’s Lady’s Book

1865, Godey’s Lady’s Book

 

1871, Harper’s Bazar

 

1876, Harper’s Bazar

 

1881, Harper’s Bazar

 

1885, Harper’s Bazar

 

1892, Harper’s Bazar

 

1895, Le Bon Ton & Le Moniteur de la Mode United

 

1902, Sears, Roebuck Catalog

 

1909, McCall’s

 

1911, Woman’s Home Companion

 

1912, Greenhut-Siegel Cooper Catalog

 

1917, Von Lengerke and Antoine Catalog

1918, The Delineator

 

1921, B. Altman & Co Catalog

 

1925, Bonwit Teller Catalog

 

I’ve chosen to end with the mid 1920s, as after that date there are many more resources for dating, and I want to use images that are firmly in the public domain.  You can see there are some gaps, and I’m working on at least an example from every five years or so.

Putting bathing suits in a timeline really shows how fashion was followed, even in the water.

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Filed under Proper Clothing, Summer Sports

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.

 

 

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Collecting, Designers, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing