Category Archives: Proper Clothing

Late 1940s Alice Stuart Travel Blouse

One thing that really determines whether or not I add an object to my collection is the condition, especially if it is a fairly common garment.  But sometimes a piece that is damaged crosses my path and I have to decide if the garment is special enough to disregard the damage.

Such was the case of this rayon blouse from the late 1940s or early 50s.  I loved the print, which is made up of ocean liner stickers.  I loved the blue, black, and lime green color scheme.  I loved the style.  But it had numerous problems.  The price was reasonable, so I bought it anyway.

Look carefully at the two photos above to spot the differences.  The bottom photo is before a few temporary repairs.  There were a series of darts that released into fullness above the waist.  This was a design trick that helped a tucked in blouse look neater because it reduced the bulk around the waist.  A previous owner had taken out all the darts, and then she hemmed the blouse about an inch and a half.

Here you can see the stitch marks that had been removed, and the fold line where the blouse had been hemmed.  Note that the stitch lines of the darts had been strained, which probably explains that they had been removed following a weight gain.  The shorter length could possibly have occurred late in the 1950s when over-blouses became popular.

Because the seamlines were somewhat compromised, I decided not to restitch the darts permanently.  Instead, I lightly basted them in place so that when displayed they had the shape of the original design, but with less stress on the dart seams.  The seams around the bottom of both sleeves had been repaired, with much of the underarm seams being broken.  Again, I used basting as these seams were also in fragile condition.

After the repairs, the blouse is still fragile, but is strong enough for display.  It has the look of its original self.

The ad above is from September, 1951, around the time my blouse was made.  One thing I love about researching old brands it that it allows a few guilt-free hours looking through vintage fashion magazines.  I did not expect to find an ad for my blouse, as I would have remembered this print from previous browsings.  But I felt confident that I would find ads for Alice Stuart.

Blouses were a very big deal in the 1940s and 50s, with there being dozens of companies that made blouses exclusively.  Every issue of magazines targeted toward the career girl, like Glamour and Mademoiselle, had plenty of blouse advertisements including those for Alice Stuart.

From the ad above you can see that the blouses were made by Alice Stuart, Inc.  By 1956 the label had become part of the Jonathan Logan dressmaking empire.  In that year Jonathan Logan registered the trademark, which the application claims that the label was first used in 1942.  That sounds about right, though sometimes the information contained in trademark applications involved a bit of guesswork by the applicant.

I have no idea when the label was discontinued, but a search on ebay produced styles from the 1980s.

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Filed under Ad Campaign, Collecting, Novelty Prints, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing

1940s Hat with Everything

So when the mood of today’s hats seem frivolous it may be a kind of singing in the dark, the expression of an effort to put a bit of gaity into a world burdened with problems.

It might seem that the above words could have been written today, but actually the year was 1943.  The world was embroiled in a horrible conflict that required the citizens of the world to be brave, and to present a brave face even in the midst of fear.  Teacher and writer Grace Margaret Morton wrote the words in her book, The Arts of Costume and Personal Appearance.  They sum up perfectly the view many women both in the US and Canada, and in Europe took in response to fear and grave danger.

I’ve spent a lot of time the past several days looking at fashions from the 1940s, with a focus on the top and the bottom – the hats and the shoes.  By 1943 women’s shoes were terribly practical, with oxford styles and mid to low heel heights prevailing in the fashion magazines.  Colors were very limited, with most styles available only in black and brown.

Hats, on the opposite end of the scale, were fanciful and they varied widely in style.  Most prevalent was a modified form of the fedora, but women could buy hats in almost every shape and form imaginable.  Berets and turbans, tiny tilt hats that hovered over the eyes, and towering toques that had to be shaped on a stiffened form were available.

The difference in shoes and hats was based somewhat on the materials used to make them.  The leather for shoes was in short supply, but hats could be made in many different fabrics, most of which were not rationed.

As a sportswear collector, I do not seek out fancy and elaborate hats and accessories, but when I run across something really great, that I feel helps tell a story, then I can’t resist adding it to my horde.  Such is the case with this hat.

It has a little bit of everything.  The general shape is that of a Juliet cap, a form that was popular with young American women and teens.  But the creator didn’t stop with the addition of sequins and ribbon.  To the lower back of the cap, a looping fringe was added, perhaps simulating longer hair.

But what really sold me on this hat was the cut-out heart on the back of the cap.  This hat was a real attention-getter!

My new hat has three labels – the size, the store, Scherman Fifth Avenue, and a New York Creations label.  I could not find any concrete information about Scherman, but most of the hats I found for sale with the label were from the 1940s and early 1950s.  There was also a hat label for Eugene Scherman from the same era.  In addition, I located a reference to a E.H. Scherman hat shop located on West 37th Street in 1922.

I have no way of knowing at present if the three different references are related, but the search continues.  I would appreciate any information any reader might know or run across about Scherman.

 

The most extreme hats of WWII were those worn by French women.  To learn more about how the French used hats as a protest against German occupation, listen to this Missed in History podcast with fashion historian April Calahan.

 

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Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing, World War II

Irene Brown Cashmere Sweater for Golfer

 

I’ve been on a lucky streak online recently, as far as finding great stuff for my collection.  Above you can see my new favorite, bought off eBay from seller lindys4sale.  It is cashmere, and is decorated with velveteen appliques, accents with beads, embroidery, and the occasional bit of leather.

Irene Brown of Detroit is a new name to me, and an internet search showed up only a few references, all in Michigan newspapers dating from 1962 to 1968.  I found two other examples that had been sold online, both of which used applique to decorate the sweater.

One thing I can tell you about Irene Brown is that the sweater that bears her name shows top notch workmanship.  Each little piece was cut from velveteen or leather, and then was expertly appliqued to the sweater.  The letters shown above are about an inch and an eighth, are beautifully finished and then embroidered on one side to mimic a shadow.  The number on the flag and the dimples on the ball are made with beading.

Even the sides of the sweater and the sleeve cuffs are decorated.  The two other examples I found of Brown’s work also had gathered cuffs like this one.  Perhaps it was a trademark of her designs.

The back of the sweater has one big applique of a golf bag and clubs.  All the design on the bag was made through embroidery.

The interior is not lined, so you can get a good look at the handwork.  I would have expected a sweater of this quality to be lined, but I can find no traces of old lining threads, and the other examples I found do not seem to be lined either.

One thing I really love about vintage golf prints and such is that the 19th hole is almost always referenced.  That little cocktail is enough to entice me onto the golf course.  You’ll find me in the club house.

 

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

Girls Will Be Boys

Several years ago I ran across Women in Pants by Catherine Smith and Cynthia Greig.  What I loved about the book was the great variety of photos showing women in pants, from homesteaders who adopted pants as a practicality, to actresses who played male roles, to women who dressed in men’s clothing just so they could have a joke photo made.  Ever since reading the book I’ve been on the lookout for antique photos in which woman were dressed as men, and last week I finally found one.

There was no information at all on the back of this photo, so we can only guess at the intent of the two women who are dressed as men.  And they are dressed as men, not as women who have taken to wearing pants on a regular basis.  With their hair stuck under the hats, and the stance of men with hand in pocket, this seems to be a photo made purely for the fun of it.

Whatever the motivation, it does make for an interesting image.

Interestingly, two people I follow on Instagram also posted antique women dressed as men photos this past week.  One was a family photo in which the poster’s grandmother was one of the women.  It was identified as a photo that the young women had made as a lark.

The other one was a find like mine, with no identification.  The poster assumed that the women were dressed as men because they were transgender.  And while I cannot say with certainty that she was wrong in this assumption, it is much more likely that the women were merely having a fun time making light of the opposite sex.

I think that when it comes to the past, it is easy to assign the knowledge of today’s world when confronted with an unexpected image like Edwardian women dressed as men.  In history it is really easy to take two plus two and come up with five.  I know I’m often guilty of making inaccurate assumptions about the past, but the more I see and the more I read, the better I’ve gotten about seeing the past only through the lense of the past.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing

Swimming Tights by Annette Kellerman

Okay, I know that the garment above doesn’t look like a big deal, but appearances can really deceive.  In 1905 when other women around the world were wearing dress and bloomer bathing suits, Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman introduced Europe to the one-piece swimming suit for women.  At the time, even most men were still wearing two-piece bathing suits, consisting of knit trunks that came to the knee with a long tee shirt on top.

But in Australia, competitive swimmers, both male and female, had begun wearing one-piece knit suits for the sport.  When Kellerman went to England in 1905 for a swimming exhibition, she found a much stricter set of rules for women swimmers.  In order to perform, she took a pair of black stockings and sewed them to her suit to provide more coverage.  She was then allowed to perform.

This 1914 ad shows the famous suit

Two years later Kellerman gained notoriety when she appeared on a beach near Boston, and was promptly arrested for indecency.  At her hearing she argued that swimming was a healthful exercise, but that bulky bathing suits did not allow one to swim.  The judge agreed, provided she agreed to wear a robe when not in the water.

Note: On the Powerhouse Museum website, the notes for an Annette Kellermann suit in their collection state, “…the story that she got herself arrested at Boston’s Revere Beach for wearing a one-piece bathing suit is not supported by evidence.”  The story is often repeated, and Kellerman herself related the tale in a 1953 interview.  

By this time Kellerman was quite famous, and so the time was right to capitalize on her name.  The right deal came along in the form of Asbury Mills, who for about twenty years made Annette Kellermann swimsuits.  The early ones were very similar to what she had been wearing, but by the late 1910s, the products were more like the standard 1920s swimsuit for women.  In fact, one Australian site credits Kellerman with coming up with the one-piece suit with the attached overskirt.

My suit has a deeply scooped neck of the type Kellerman seemed to favor.  The photos of her in her very early suits show a small cap sleeve instead of my sleeveless version.

The description of the suit on the site where I found it read that the waist seam stitches were broken.  When I received the suit I realized that there was no waist seam originally and that a former owner had put the seam it to shorten it.  There was so little of the seam left that I made the decision to remove it.

Whenever I have a garment that has alterations or damage, I have to decide what, if anything, to do about it.  Many times I leave it as is, but in this case I wanted the swimsuit returned, as much as possible, to the original state.

I say as close as possible, because the seam did leave a crease and a faint faded area.

The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney has an extensive collection of Kellerman material, including many of the costumes she wore in movies and public performances.  Starting August 10, much of it will be on display at the museum.

You might have noticed that I used two different spellings of Annette’s name.  While she generally spelled Kellerman with one N, she did use two N’s on her label and in her books.

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Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

Lady Fair Yarn Book No. 3, 1921

I have laughingly called myself a Goodwill Archaeologist, but the very nature of digging through the bins at my local Goodwill Outlet does resemble the work of archaeology in some respects.  First, there is the obvious reference to “digging” but there are other similarities.

It is important to note the location of a find.  An archaeologist may find one piece of pottery in a location, and will then be on the alert for more pieces in the same area.  In the same way, a Goodwill Archaeologist knows that if there is one piece of old stuff in a bin, there is a nice likelihood that there will be more.  I have been through bins that held a lifetime of embroidered linens.  Sometimes a bin will contain the entire series of Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys books.  If one great item is spotted in a bin, then it is worth taking more time to closely examine the contents of that, and the surrounding, bins.

This strategy paid off  this week when I spotted a few old knitting and crocheting instruction booklets.  These were sold by the millions, mainly by the makers of yarns and threads.  The ones from the 1940s and 50s are pretty common, but I always take a look at them to see if there are any sportswear booklets.

I very quickly pulled out about one hundred booklets from the bin, being careful to excavate the entire area.  A closer look later revealed that the great majority of the booklets were on making various crochet edgings and laces.  But in the midst of all the doilies and laces, I found a real treasure.  The Lady Fair Yarn Book No. 3 was published in 1921 by the T. Eaton Co., one of the great Canadian department stores.

This booklet has forty pages of sports fashions for the entire family.  Being Canadian, there are lots of sweaters for skating and hockey, but there are garments for golf and tennis as well.

Lady Fair was Eaton’s house brand of yarns.  Many of the designs featured angora yarn, as in the tuxedo sweater above.

This suit, recommended for golf, was quite fashionable.

There were not just sweaters and dresses, but also accessories,  such as hats and scarves.

The instructions for this bathing suit also included directions for the stockings.  I found several things to be interesting.  First, that the stockings were knee length, when in the early Twenties it was still the custom in the US to wear full length stockings with bathing attire.  The custom for this varied from place to place, with some beaches in Europe already having done away with stockings by the 1920s.

But what I really love about this bathing suit is how complicated it is, with the straps and buttons and belt and contrasting color trunks that were not attached to the body of the bathing suit.

There were included a large variety of men’s sweaters, for activities like skating and golf.

This garment for a boy might be called overalls, but I’m betting it was more like underwear, wouldn’t you agree?

 

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Winter Sports

Mohair Sweater, Circa 1960

My first fashion history teacher was my mother.  In telling me about the clothes she wore as a young woman in the 1940s, I became fascinated with how clothing styles changed and how they reflected the times in which the wearers lived.  I’ve always loved stories about women and the clothes that have been important to them.

While I was young, I witnessed two major changes in the the way women dressed – the switch from the conservative styles of the early 1960s to the Mod styles of the mid 60s, and then from the Mod styles to the 1970s which brought about a greater acceptance of women wearing pants and a more eclectic way of dressing overall.

Growing up in a small town in the mountains of North Carolina, I was made aware at an early age that fashion as seen in magazines and on television was not always what was being worn in my community.  The girls I knew always complained that we were at least two years behind the rest of the country, but looking back I realize that it wasn’t just this area that suffered a fashion lag.  What woman or girl in the 1960s could afford to replace all her clothing every season?  And so wardrobes were made more stylish as clothing was replaced or altered.

One garment I recall from my childhood was the bulky mohair sweater.  Whenever I come across one of these sweaters, I’m instantly reminded of my older cousin Nancy and the other high school girls who rode my school bus.  All these teens were wearing mohair sweaters in the early 60s, but by the time I would have wanted one, they were no longer the style.  I estimate that the girls I knew were wearing them in the early 1960s, and my search for images confirms that this was the era in which they were popular.  The latest image I found was in a 1965 Montgomery Ward catalog.

Like most of these sweaters that I’ve seen, the catalog states that this one was made in Italy of a blend of mohair, wool, and nylon.

I’d love to hear any memories you might have of wearing mohair.  Please tell me how itchy it was so I can get over this sense of loss at never getting to wear it as a child.

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing