Category Archives: Proper Clothing

1910s – 1920 Wool Gym Suit

I started adding gym suits to my collection purely by accident.  Ten years or so ago I was trading some things with my favorite vintage shop when the owner pulled out a 1940s gym suit and insisted that I take it. I was a bit reluctant as I was trying to limit the focus of my acquiring.  I now realize she knew me better than I knew myself.

Since then I’ve actively searched for gym suits, and now have sixteen in my collection dating from circa 1870 through the 1950s.  Considering how women claim to have detested their gym suits, it is surprising how many survive. I’m pretty sure my 1970s version was destroyed decades ago!

I found my latest gym suit at the Liberty Antiques Festival back in April. I almost missed it, as it was folded in a stack of old linens. But something about the black serge caught my eye as I passed by.  The lesson is, of course, to always look through unpromising stacks of linens.

I estimate this one to date from 1915 through 1920.  The photo above is from an Aldrich & Aldrich catalog showing a 1920 gym suit from their inventory.  Mine is a different company, E.R. Moore, but the styling is very similar, with the loose belt that contains the wide pleats that fall from a yoke at the shoulders.

E.R. Moore was founded in 1907, and made not only gym suits, but also academic gowns for graduations and other ceremonies. As far as I can tell, the gym suit production ended several decades ago, but gowns continued to be made at least until 2005. The year before there was a big kerfuffle at Harvard when it rained at graduation and the dye from the gowns ruined graduates’ clothing. The factory building is now loft apartments.

 

One thing I especially love about this suit is that I know the name of the original owner.  Not only is Virginia Hooper’s name sewn into the suit, but a note was attached as well.

I have not been able to identify Ms. Hooper, but the suit came from a consolidation estate company in Indian Trail, NC, which is in the Charlotte area. Along with the gym suit and linens, several boxes of high quality fabrics came from the estate. (And yes, I bought some of them as well.)

 

After looking at the Aldrich catalog, I’m thinking I should have photographed the belt buttoning at the back.

Without the belt you can see how roomy this gym suit is.  No need for a corset here.

In my quest for more information about this particular suit, I turned to When the Girls Came Out to Play, by Patricia Campbell Warner, and I was rewarded with some nice details about this style of gym suit.  It was designed around 1910 by Florence Bolton at Stanford University, and was based on the English gym slip, but with bloomers at the bottom. It was designed to be worn with a cotton blouse beneath. Practical though it was, this design proved to be unpopular as it was too far from mainstream fashion. Warner points out, however, that before long, most women’s fashions had a similar silhouette. Once again we see the influence of sports attire.

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Vintage Clothing, Winter Sports

1940s Made in Hawaii Bathing Suit from Kahala

This recently acquired halter and shorts set sent me down a rabbit hole of Hawaiian textiles.  The beginnings of the Hawaiian shirt are a bit obscure, but the first ones were probably made from silk fabrics from Japan in the 1920s.  Most of them were made by small shops in small batches. The large scale manufacture of shirts from Hawaiian fabrics started in the mid 1930s.

My set was made by Kahala, one of the first companies to manufacture “Hawaiian” garments.  It was started in 1936 by Nat Norfleet and George Brangier, neither of whom was a native Hawaiian. Their company, Branfleet, was using the Kahala name and label by 1937.  From what I’ve been able to find out, women’s garments were not made until after World War II, but then clothing for women became a major part of their business.

It is possible that my set is actually a bathing suit. It is completely lined in cotton jersey.

What Norfleet and Brangier discovered was that men would buy a shirt made from their Hawaiian fabrics to wear while in Hawaii, but women would continue to wear their Kahala garments after returning home.  I’d say this was much better than today’s not so subtle brag of the souvenir tee shirt.  You could remind the neighbors of your Hawaiian trip while looking fabulous.

I don’t find a lot of older Hawaiian garments here in the Southeast. People here were much more likely to vacation in Florida, or if a little more affluent, Cuba. But from the few older Hawaiian shirts I have been able to closely examine, I can tell you that the fabric is very different from the newer rayons made in the 1980s up through the present time.  My set is rayon, but it is lightly textured, though smooth at the same time.

The button is made from coconut shell, and adds another layer of Hawaiian authenticity.

But the star of this set is the print.  The richness is achieved with the use of at least fourteen colors.  I especially love the light blue used with so much red.

According to my one and only book on Hawaiian shirts, the very earliest prints were tropical flowers and tapa cloth prints. Scenics like mine soon became popular as well.

The Hawaiian Shirt, by H. Thomas Steele, was one of the very first fashion books I bought.  I can remember looking through it in the local B. Dalton book store and trying to justify the purchase. It was published in 1984, so I’m sure it was shortly after than that I added this to my very small, but growing, fashion history library.

 

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Filed under Collecting, Novelty Prints, Proper Clothing, Summer Sports

1920s Rayon Pyjamas

One of the great finds I made last week was this pair of 1920s pyjamas. The seller who had them is a regular at the antiques market, and she specializes in things other than clothing, but she usually has a rack of vintage lingerie as a sort of afterthought.  They were mislabeled as nylon tricot, which was a bit puzzling.

Anyway, I was happy to find them.  Pyjamas from the 1920s are hard to find and I am glad to add these to my collection.  Pyjamas are one of those garments that started to bridge the gap between what was acceptable to be worn in the home, and what was okay for public wearing. These are technically lingerie, but many women in the late 1920s followed the avant garde in Italy and started wearing these at the beach over their swimwear.

There are several things that identify these as being from the 20s.  Scallops were a common design feature of the time.  They are seen on outerwear as well as lingerie.  Also, the edges were finished with a picot stitch machine. This newish invention was very popular in the twenties, as it worked so well with the flowy fabrics of the day.

The legs of the pants are straight.  After about 1930 pant legs got wide and flowing, much like the bellbottoms of the late 60s and 1970s.

While examining the pants I got a little surprise. Near the hems were two little slits with finished edges.  I’m thinking there were originally ties that gathered in the legs slightly.

Here I have inserted a piece of ribbon through the slits to make a bow which puts a little pleat in the leg.

I have no way of knowing what the original ties were made of, but I do happen to have some 1920s ribbon in pink and blue.

The top of the little pocket on the blouse and the neckline are finished with a gauze fabric that matches the blue rayon.  It is possible the ties were made from this fabric.

The blouse originally had a belt, as evidenced by the presence of belt loops.  These are located on the side seams, slightly below the natural waistline, as one would expect in a 1920s garment.

There is a line of stitching in the back of the neck.  Could this mean there was once a label?  I’m not sure, as it seems to be an odd thing for a 1920s garment, but what would be another explanation?

There are two different types of stitches in the pants.  I’m pretty sure the pyjamas were commercially made due to the picot edging and the tiny French seams.  But I also think the pants were shortened at the waist. Note the vertical side seam, and the double stitched casing for elastic at the waist. The thread of the casing stitches does not quite match.

In the 1920s most women were not wearing any sort of legged garments, so pyjamas were a big step in the move toward women wearing pants, even if they were seen mainly in the boudoir.

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1920s Embroidered and Smocked Frock

Any vintage seller who has been in the business more than a few years will tell you that vintage clothing is subject to fads.  One year vintage wearers want 1950s full-skirted dresses, and the next they might move on to 1970s disco attire.  If the comments on Instagram can be believed, one of the hottest items right now is the “ethnic-inspired” smocked and embroidered dress from the 1920s.

This type dress fits in well with the 1920s fascination with the exotic, something I’ve written about in the past. While there were sewing patterns for the dresses, they were also made abroad. I’ve seen them with labels from Czechoslovakia and the Philippines.

To be honest, I’ve never been able to determine exactly when these dresses were made, but the general consensus seems to be from the mid 1920s and into the early 1930s.  If you look at the placement of the waistline on my dress above, you can see that it’s not exactly the stereotypical 1920s silhouette, as the bodice is shorter than expected.

I spent a pleasurable morning looking through 1920s magazines, and the closest I found was this illustration for a 1926 Vogue sewing pattern.  Witness2Fashion posted several examples, also from 1926.  Fashion illustrations did tend to exaggerate the silhouette somewhat, but even so, my example has a longer skirt as well as the short bodice.  By the late 1920s the waistline was inching upward, and the hemline downward.

Another hint that my dress is later 20s or even 1930 is the little bit of shaping in the waist. There is even an opening in the side to allow for easier dressing.

Quite unbelievably, I found this dress at my local Goodwill bins.  It’s not in perfect condition, but the design of the dress lessens the impact of the problems.  Here you can see that some of the red threads have come loose at the neck. That was a very easy fix.

Not so easy to deal with was a small rip on the upper back. To stabilize the tear, I encased it in organdy and then basted the three layers together. While the tear makes the dress unwearable, it would not detract from the garment if it were to be displayed.

You can see some staining in this photo, which a few gentle handwashings removed.  I also had to do a bit of smock repair.

One of favorite things about this dress is how the dots vary in size, and how the pattern of them on the skirt is the reverse or that of the bodice.  And all the dots are hand embroidered.

Today we think of smocked dresses as being just for little girls.  What a shame!

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1950s Golf Dress – Babe Didrikson Golfer by Serbin

Some time ago I heard from Marianne Serbin, who was part of the family that owned the clothing company Serbin, and later, Serbin of Miami.  In her letter to me she mentioned that at one time famed athlete Babe Didrikson designed golf dresses for Serbin.  Since then I’ve had this line on my shopping radar, and finally, last month, I found a really great example.

Marianne did not mention when exactly Didrikson worked for Serbin, and it’s likely she does not know, as she would have been a child at the time.  But it is pretty easy to narrow it down to a range of just a few years.  First, Didrikson died in 1955 from cancer which was diagnosed with in 1953.

The length of the dress is quite long, and so the earliest it could be is 1948 or so.

The label reads just Serbin, instead of Serbin of Miami.  The company moved to Miami in 1951.  That may indicate that the set predates 1951 and the move, but that’s not guaranteed.  My 1960s golf set from Serbin does not mention Miami either.

I did find two ads online for Serbin golf dresses from 1949.  Actress Jane Russell is the model, but there is no mention of Didrikson.  It stands to reason that , as a very famous athlete, her name would have been in the ad as well. (The hunt continues.  I’ll update if I find a Serbin-Didrikson ad.)

My best guess is, then, 1950 through 1952.  But more important than the actual date of this dress is what we can learn about how fashion was adapted to fit a specific activity, in this case, golfing.

One of the first things to consider in making a golf dress is the sleeve.  Tight sleeves just won’t do, but in the early 50s most women on the golf course were just not ready to go sleeveless. In order to allow the arms full range of motion, golf dress sleeves were often pleated, and in this case, you can see that there are also buttons to give even more flexibility.

An interesting side note – this type of pleated sleeve appears to have started in the 1930s.  In the early 30s it was often seen on fashionable dresses.  So which use came first, the fashion or the sport?  I have no idea.

When unbuttoned, the sleeve is open all the way to the shoulder.

Another must-have feature on golf dresses was a pocket or two.  I really love how this breast pocket was cut on the bias.

I somehow neglected to take a full-length photo of the back of the dress, so take my word for it that this pocket is on the back, not the front.  It’s large enough to hold a ball, a glove, and a couple of tees.

One thing that made me buy this particular dress was that the belt was present.  So many times in old clothes the original belt is missing.  I didn’t realize until the dress arrived at my house that the belt is actually attached to a large flap in the back.  The flap obscures a large opening and the looseness of it allows for good air circulation.  It also makes the dress more flexible in the upper back.  Ingenious.

Here you can see the back opening.

Another interesting feature is that the dress has a front zipper that extends to the hem.  The zipper is actually a separating one, so this dress is very easy to put on.

Even with all the features that make this a dress for golfing, a woman could also have worn this dress for regular, casual wear.  It fits right in with what was stylish in 1950.

My Dad had a golf tournament  in Miami Beach which was Babe’s first win after her cancer and he presented her with a trophy topped with a diamond studded metal golf ball..quite a thrill for everyone.  Marianne Serbin.  Photo courtesy of Marianne Serbin.

I’m always amazed to learn of how so many otherwise famous people from the past also have a link to the fashion world.  Today, of course, it is just another way for a celebrity to make cash off his or her popularity.  But even a hundred years ago celebrities were being approached by companies eager to add a bit of  star power to their products.

UPDATE:  Thanks to Christina, I have a bit more to share.  Didrikson’s autobiography is online, and in it she mentions the deal with Serbin.  She won the British Ladies Championship in 1947, and after that win she was able to sign contracts with quite a few companies, including Serbin.  Later in the caption of a photo she mentions the ongoing deal with Serbin.  This was in 1955.

Christina also found photos of Didrikson wearing what looks to be a dress very similar to mine.  The year is 1950.   Thanks Christina!

UPDATE: Liza has found an ad in a newspaper for Didrickson/Serbin golf dresses dated March 30, 1949.  Thanks Liza!

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Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Man O’War Dance Romper, 1930

You want to know what makes a collector’s heart sing?  The discovery of an object she never knew existed!  The romper above has the Man O’War label, which I’d known only as a maker of middy blouses and gymsuits.  But gymsuits weren’t made in cute cotton floral prints.  So what’s the story?

Fortunately, the seller, Belvedere Vintage Wear had done her homework, and when she posted a photo of the romper on Instagram, she also posted the ad above.  It came from a 1930 issue of The Dance Magazine, so it turns out this was a rehearsal garment.

The  Man O’War label belonged to a Baltimore company,  Branigan, Green & Co.  According the the 1921 edition of The American Cloak and Suit Review, the company was recently formed as a maker of middys and gym attire.  The owners were Edgar Green and Joseph Branigan, both of whom had worked for Morris and Co, the makers of Paul Jones Middys.  I did however, find a reference to  Branigan, Green & Co in a 1909 list of clothing manufacturers, under the category of middy blouses.  Perhaps it is just the Man O’War label that was started in 1921.

In 1921, when the label was started, Man O’War was a household name, with the famous horse dominating racing in 1919 and 1920.  Maybe Branigan and Green thought it would be a great name for their label, as it also had a nautical connection, being a type of ship.  That is a ship on the label.

The structure is very similar to gymsuits of the period.  It unbuttons at the shoulder, and the wearer steps into the garment.  It is loose at the waist, but the illustrations in the ad show it being worn with a tie belt.  For the photo I used a piece of bias tape, but a wider ribbon is needed.

The elastic in the legs is pretty much shot, so I’ll be replacing that.  But that is pretty much all that this piece needs in order to made it dance-worthy.

This ad is from 1929, and featured Man O’War’s main product – gym attire. Maybe it was that by 1930 the middy was not as ubiquitous as it had been a few years before that caused Branigan, Green & Co to start branching out.  By 1931 they were also producing a line of ski wear, Adirondack: the Real McCoy for Winter Sports, and miscellaneous sportswear under a label called Good Game.  Over the years other labels were added. In 1955 they started a label for women’s and children’s sports separates called Sandpipers.  As far as I can tell, the company lasted until 1969.

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Mountaineering in Short Skirts, 1904

I recently ran across these two prints that are dated 1904.  To someone who knows about fashion in the early twentieth century, this would seem like a very improbable skirt length for the time.  But they reminded me of the words of outdoorswoman, Annie Smith Peck, who wrote in 1901:

“…Men, we all know, climb in knickerbockers… Women, on the contrary, will declare that a skirt is no hindrance to their locomotion.  This is obviously absurd, and though a few ladies have climbed mountains like the Matterhorn in extremely scanty and abbreviated skirts, I dare assert that suitably-made knickerbockers… are not only more comfortable but more becoming… A scant skirt barely reaching the knee and showing the knickerbockers below, such as some ladies have worn, is as ungraceful a costume as could be devised; and for a woman in difficult mountaineering to waste her strength and endanger her life with a skirt is foolish in the extreme.”

While these pictures seem to show the women in leggings rather than knickers, the outfit is pretty much as Annie described it.

The imaginary women in the prints are also shown as if they were wearing corsets.  What did Annie have to say about that?

“It may not be necessary to add that no one should climb mountains or even hills in corsets.  One must have the full use of the lungs, and the loosest corset is some impediment to the breathing.  As ordinarily worn they are impossible.  Moreover, they greatly increase the heat, impede circulation, and promote rush of blood to the head.”

Images of women participating in sports were popular in the early 1900s.  Artists like Coles Phillips and Howard Chandler Christy were known for their sporty, but still very feminine, women.  This artist seems to be sexualizing the women somewhat, with the posing and the slender legs.

I think the signature is T T Pollock, but I could not find a reference to that name, nor to Polleck.  Maybe someone will recognize it for me.

No skirts for Annie!

Update:  Researcher extraordinaire Lynne has discovered that the artist was Homer Polleck, though some references have his name as Pollock.  He lived and worked in Kansas City, Missouri, and died in 1917.

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Filed under Camping and Hiking, Curiosities, Proper Clothing