Category Archives: Proper Clothing

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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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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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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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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Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville, Tennessee

If you follow my Instagram, then you know that we went to Nashville last week.  It’s only a four hour drive, but not being fans of current country music we had never made the trip.  When the liquidation of the inventory of a huge vintage clothing shop was announced, I decided we now had reason enough to cross the mountains into Tennessee.

But a trip is never just about shopping when there are museums to be seen.  When in Nashville, one must pay homage to the Country gods at the Country Music Hall of Fame.  The place is huge, with permanent exhibits and temporary exhibitions.  It’s a lot to take in, but I thought the story of the development of country music was well told.  I’m not a fan of current country music, but the history of the genre was fascinating.  Simply put, country began as a mix of Appalachian folk, Black gospel, and cowboy tunes.

I had forgotten how much a part of my life country music has been until this visit.  My father was a big fan of both country and folk music, and by the time I was ten I knew every Johnny Cash song by heart.  As kids we thought it was pretty corny.

Country music is often referred to as Country and Western, and the “western” influences are many, especially in the way country performers have dressed over the years.  There were cowboy boots galore in the museum, all of them ornately decorated.  Above are pairs that belonged to Roy Rogers (yellow) and Dale Evans (blue).

There were quite a few items from the famous “singing cowboys” from the movies of the 1930s and 40s.  Early items, like the Roy Rogers shirt above, were quite plain, but as time went on performance costumes got more and more ornate as the stars took their cues from rodeo stars who had been influenced by the look of the Mexican vaqueros.  All this evolution of style would make a fascinating study!

By the late 1940s, many country stars were buying from Nudie Cohn, the Rodeo Tailor.  Nudie (born in Russia as Nuta Kotlyarenko!) gained a reputation for customized suits and boots and his influence cannot be understated.  He was as much a star as the men and women he dressed.

Here is Nudie’s sewing machine.

While Nudie became famous for his highly embroidered and bespangled suits, one of the most familiar suits on display is this one he made for Hank Williams.  The music notes are applique, and look carefully to see that they extend down the sides of the legs.

And don’t miss the Roy Acuff cloth flour sack.  Acuff was from East Tennessee and was instrumental in the popularization of Appalachian folk melodies as a part of country music.

Many performers used their professional clothing to capitalize on the popularity of a particular song.  Nudie made this suit for singer Hank Snow after his big 1952 hit, “The Golden Rocket.”  I assume the song was about a train.

This Nudie jacket was made for Ray Price, who was billed as “The Cherokee Cowboy.”  Price did grow up on a Texas farm, but I could not find any reference to him actually being Cherokee.

These blue suede shoes belonged, not to Elvis, but to Carl Perkins, the writer and original singer of the song.

If you were ever lucky enough to attend an Elvis concert, you know about the scarves.  Elvis’s manager, Col. Parker came up with the idea of Elvis handing out printed scarves to crazed fans during his performances.  When I saw him in Asheville in 1975 (the time when he put a bullet through the TV at the motel where he was staying) he must have given away over a hundred of them.  Stupid and shy me missed out.

One of my favorite pieces was this Mel Tillis jacket, which was made by another famous tailor to the stars, Manuel Cuevas.

There weren’t as many costumes from women singers, and I was, frankly, disappointed in what the museum chose to represent Patsy Cline.  Many photos of her performing show her in full-out cowgirl with fringe costumes, though she also performed in rather ordinary dresses of the day.  Cline died in 1963, so it is interesting that she was performing in slacks, even if they were gold lamé with matching boots.

The guitar suit belonged to singer Don Gibson, a Western North Carolina native, and singer of “Oh, Lonesome Me.”

This costume puts me in mind of a cowboy super-hero, but it is actually another song-inspired suit.  Nudie made this ensemble for Hank Garland, who wrote the Red Foley hit, “Sugarfoot Rag.”

The museum has a special section to celebrate Merle Haggard, who died back in April.  Haggard had a very troubled childhood, and was in and out of juvenile detention centers, and later, prison for a variety of offences.  He was actually in San Quentin in 1958 when Johnny Cash performed there.  Hag managed to get his life on track, and by the mid 1960s was a moderate star.  He had a string of major hits in the late 60s including “Mama Tried” and “Okie from Muskogee” (one of the all time hilariously ironic recordings ever).

To me, Merle’s best years were the “Outlaw Country” 1980s when he performed with Willie Nelson and others.  He played in Asheville in 1983 was was arrested after the show for consuming alcohol on the stage.  I still have the tee shirt I got at the concert.  During his induction into the Hall of Fame, he quipped, ” I thought you had to be dead to get in here.”  I do love Hag.

Dottie West’s outfit above was designed by that master of bling, Bob Mackie.  The boots were made by Di Fabrizio, the bootmaker who made boots for the rock group, Kiss.

And of course, there was a black suit from Johnny Cash.  We also visited the Johnny Cash museum where we saw even more black suits.

In the 1960s, the lines between country and rock continued to be blurred, a process that began with Elvis and Carl Perkins in the 50s.  By the mid 60s, rock singers were going to Nashville, and there is a special exhibition called “Nashville Cats” that focuses on the give and take nature of rock and country at that time.  Many songs of that period just cannot be put into a special box labeled “country.”

A  good example is Gram Parsons.  Here is the Nudie suit he had made for the cover of the album The Gilded Palace of Sin in 1969.  Those are pills, poppies, and marijuana plants.  I guess Gram was into drugs. (Thanks to Janey Atomic Redhead for identifying the poppies.)

By the late 1970s, old style country music was out of style.  Country singers were less flashy, and a lot less “folky”.  Dwight Yoakum ,  with his nouveau honky tonk style was making no headway in Nashville in the established country music industry, so he went to California where he released his first album in 1986.

What really makes Yoakum interesting is his look.  He went to Manuel Cuevas for his jackets which he paired with torn and repaired jeans decorated with Mexican silver conchos and a tuxedo shirt left hanging out.  It was a throw back to the spangled costumes of a few decades earlier, but at the same time, seems to predate the torn jeans look by quite a few years.  In fact, Kanye West wore a similar look to the Met Gala this year.

And finally, I really loved that the Country Music Hall of Fame had a little area where kids (of all ages) could design their own country outfit.

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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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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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