Category Archives: Proper Clothing

Design Study Collection at the University of Cincinnati

Another highlight of the CSA (Costume Society of America) was a visit to the University of Cincinnati department of design. There we viewed the department’s historic design study collection. One thing to keep in mind is that a study collection is not the same as a museum collection. The clothing in a study collection is meant to be closely examined and even touched by students and researchers. The clothing in a study collection is often not perfect, nor is it “museum quality,” a term I don’t completely approve of, but which seems to best describe my meaning.

The clothes were arranged roughly in chronological order, and started with the later nineteenth century. Above you can see some of the earliest items in the collection.

It made me happy to see an early twentieth century bathing suit in the mix. The skirt is just draped over the shoulder, but you get the idea. There’s really nothing special about this particular bathing suit. It appears to be homemade using cotton trimmed with rick-rack. It is completely typical of what women wore to go to the beach 120 years ago, and so is an important object for students to see and study.

If you look closely at the arm hole area, you will see that this sweet little 1920s frock is badly damaged. The damaged area has been stabilized, but this dress could never be worn or displayed. But, as a learning tool it is valuable. Many of the older items in the collection did have condition problems, but the newer items were of a higher quality and condition.

I can’t help but think that a vintage clothing seller would leave this collection feeling really sad. Many of the garments were in great, and wearable, condition.

This Castillo for Lanvin piece was interesting. The label is significant, but the garment was one piece – the short jacket –  of a two-piece dress ensemble. It was one of the few couture pieces in the collection.

For the most part, the items from the 1960s and younger were nice, high-end ready-to-wear. There’s a little Pucci, some Bill Blass, and that sort of thing. Nothing earth-shattering, but great stuff to show the techniques and skill of garment makers in the 1960s.

One of my favorite 1960s dresses was this one by Teal Traina. Traina’s name is somewhat forgotten these days, but he sure knew how to cut an interesting dress.

This is a buttonhole detail from a 1960s Christian Dior New York coat dress. This was one of the ready-to-wear lines that the Dior company produced in cities other than Paris. How else could a student get such a great look at the types of detailing that made high-end ready-to-wear so special in the days before so much out-sourcing?

I don’t have anything clever to say about this Stephen Burrows dress except that I love him so much.

And I don’t have to say anything clever about this one, because the donor said it all!

The garments in the collection were donated, many from the original owners. Often times families contact museums to see if they want some old clothes, but most of us don’t have the types of things that enhance museum collections. A good alternative for donation might be the design collection at a local collage.

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1920 Sports Sweater

This sweater is a real survivor. It’s almost 100 years old, and it has managed to escape the scourge of vintage knits – the moth. I see a lot of these sweaters in old photos from 1915 through 1922 or so, but they are very rarely actually found on the vintage market. Several years ago I let one get away, and I vowed to buy the next one I found that was not held together by a few threads.

It took a while, but finally this beauty came my way. It had everything I was looking for – a great color with contrast, excellent condition, and it was made for a woman (front laps right over left). And who could resist those pockets?

This style was made for both men and women, as shown in this illustration from the 1921 Bradley Knits catalog. The only thing my sweater is missing is a label, but it could have been made by Bradley. Or maybe not, as there were many producers of wool knitwear during this time period.

The details are so nice, and add to my love of the cardigan. This sweet little pocket flap really makes me happy.

The buttonholes seem to be made by hand, using the matching wool yarn. I’m not sure why my colors are all over the place. The sweater is not this purple.

Besides the green stripes, notice the knit-in stripes of red.

And finally, a reminder that the overlock machine was not invented in the 1970s. The overlock was commonly used on sportswear, even earlier than this sweater.

 

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Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Winter Sports

Update: 1920s Gingham Romper

I posted my thoughts about this 1920s romper back in June. One of the things I wrote was this:

So rompers definitely were a thing for women, at least in the 1920s and 1930s. Still, I don’t agree with calling a gym suit a romper, no matter how much the garment is similar.

But then last week I found a real shocker in a 1926 high school yearbook.

These are the girls of the Gainesville Athletic Club at Gainesville High School in Florida. Could it be these were the actual basketball uniforms? It is hot in Florida, so maybe they adapted the usual bloomer suit into a light cotton garment.

I do need to make sure you notice that the suits are not identical, though they do seem to be made from the same fabric. And what’s with those belts?

It does pay to keep an open mind when it comes to the past. The minute we start saying “never” and “always” we run into trouble.

I also want to give a big thank you to all the kids over the past one hundred years who worked tirelessly on the yearbook committee. I don’t collect yearbooks, but anytime I run across an older one I always thumb through it to see if I can spot anything interesting. This time I was really rewarded.  Along with several yearbooks dating from the 1920s through the 40s, someone donated a series of photograph albums from the same years to Goodwill. It all ended up in the bins, and while I didn’t buy any of it, the guy who put them in his cart kindly let me photograph some really great photos.

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Filed under Curiosities, Gymnasium, Proper Clothing, Rest of the Story, Sportswear

1929 Perfetex Athletic Clothing Style Book

I’m beginning to think that Chicago was the gym attire capital of the US,  as I’ve found another company that was located in that city. I knew about Perfetex because I have a pair of wool exercise bloomers with that label. It made me happy when earlier this week I located a catalog from the company. I bought it because I hoped to find my bloomers included (more about that later) but I found the catalog to be really interesting beyond my own collection.

The actual name of the firm that made Perfetex Athletic Clothing was Chancellor & Vaughan of Chicago. A note inside from the company president was signed C U Chancellor. Even with all that information, I was not able to find out anything about the company. That happens so often when a proper name is also a word with a meaning, such as “chancellor.”

In 1929, big changes where coming to women’s clothing. It wasn’t as sudden as history books sometimes make it seem, as there were hints that skirts were going to get longer, and clothing was going to be cut closer to the body. As for gym wear, for decades the bloomer had been the pants that girls and women wore for athletics. Above you can see the classic combination of middy blouse and baggy bloomers. The middy has short sleeves, and the bloomers are above the knee, but otherwise this is pretty much the same gym attire girls had been wearing for fifteen years.

But in 1929 the bloomer was slowly being replaced by shorts. In the outfit above, the blouse is still made of middy twill fabric, it has the pocket, and the V-neck. But gone is the flapping collar.

Taking it a stop further, here we see the shorts paired with a tee shirt made from jersey knit, which was available in either cotton or wool. Before long girls and women were wearing shorts for more than just basketball.

Click to enlarge

The middy was still pretty much the top of choice for gym. But it is interesting how in just a few years it would be pretty much gone, replaced by a gymsuit that was a blouse and shorts combination.

Prefetex was even selling a similar blouse in 1929. Just add the shorts and you have the new standard that replaced the middy and bloomers.

A while back I posted about a 1920s romper in my collection that is very similar to this one. It’s always good to find items documented with firm dating.

I’m doing a groan about the Barefoot Dancing Sandals though. I saw a pair of these somewhere online (probably eBay) described as bathing sandals, which I knew they were not. So I didn’t bid, and didn’t even bookmark the auction. Not good. Now I need them. Badly.

But getting back to my knickers, I am pretty sure that these are the ones I have. They are described as modern because so much of the fullness has been eliminated and they are shorter than the other knickers offered.

I am truly sorry about my sorry photos of these. I promise to take more time and do a better job. I hope you can tell that these are the same style.

Here’s the side opening with a placket covering the buttons.

The ad copy mentions a “diamond crotch piece.” I’d call it a gusset, and the purpose was to make the fabric “give” more in the area to reduce stress to the fabric. Note the mends on both sides of the diamond. it didn’t work.

To me, a lot of the fun of collecting comes from being able to identify garments like this pair of lowly bloomers. Simple pleasures!

 

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Filed under Collecting, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

Novelty Bathing Caps – 1960s

One of the greatest things about studying fashion history is that there is always something new to discover. Just when you think you have seen it all from an era, something like the swim cap above pops into your etsy  suggestions. Yes, this is a bathing cap, made from acrylic yarn fused to a rubber base.

For those of you not around in the 1960s, bathing caps were on their way out, but archaic rules about women’s hair made them mandatory in many public pools. I can remember that my public pool had such a rule, but as men’s hair grew longer in the mid 60s, we began ignoring it. After all, many of the boys had hair longer than that of some girls. There was no big protest, but the caps quickly disappeared after about 1964.

I was hoping to find an ad for this pigtail cap, as there is a brand name – Cole of California – in the cap. Unfortunately, I came up empty, so I decided to think about style. When were pigtails fashionable? It seems odd that any adult would put little girl braids in her hair, but in the time of little girl looks, also known as the mid 1960s, pretty much anything youthful went. I wore my hair in pigtails, and not when I was seven. I was probably around twelve, now that I think about it.

So starting with the year 1967, the year I turned twelve, I did some research. To be honest, I spent a few pleasurable hours looking through 1967 and 68 Seventeen, Teen, and Glamour magazines. What I discovered was that 1967 does seem to be the year of the pigtail. I found examples in all three magazines, and the December, 1967 Glamour even had a young woman in pigtails on the cover. So I feel pretty confident in dating this cap to 1967.

Here is how the yarn is attached to the rubber. There are no stitches in the rubber. This is more like a rubber thread that is fused on the cap to hold the yarn in place.

Cole advertised in the major fashion magazines, so I’m holding out hope that original ad can be found.

The second cap is just as interesting, but in a more sophisticated manner. If you are one of those persons who feels naked when not wearing earrings, this is the cap for you.

I’ve seen swim caps that were molded to look like hair in catalogs and ads as far back as the 1930s. This one is newer, but when exactly? The biggest clues are the earrings. At first glance I’d be tempted to say 1970s, but by then the swim cap was pretty much over except in pools in retirement villages in Florida. So when were dangly earrings popular?

I found lots of long earrings around 1962 and 1963. Could that be when this cap was made? I’m not nearly as confident in dating this one.

Here’s a close-up of the earrings. The dangles are little fake coins. And look at how they are attached. It has to be some kind of miracle that this survived intact. I’m guessing that it wasn’t worn very much. Maybe it was just too outré.

Unfortunately there is no maker’s imprint. To be honest, this looks to me to be the type of thing that was advertised in the cheap ads in the backs of fashion magazines. Maybe this came from the swim cap equivalent of Frederick’s of Hollywood.

As always, your opinions are welcomed and appreciated.

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Filed under Curiosities, Proper Clothing, Summer Sports

Women in Pants – The Aftermath of World War I

While my main focus is sportswear, I sometimes have to take a slight detour to see other forces that were at work in the journey toward women wearing pants. One such detour is the influence of World War One. Many articles about women wearing pants will bring up WWII as being a watershed moment in the movement toward females in pants, and that is a true depiction. But we also need to remember the woman workers of WWI, as it was they who were truly the pioneers.

I’ve written a lot about how bloomer gym suits and knickers on the hiking trails helped ease women into pants. But we need to remember that these were mainly women with money. What about the working class woman who had little time for leisure pursuits and no money for college? It’s likely that the first pants experience of most working class women was with a bathing suit, but it was during WWI that so many women took over jobs traditionally done by men. It made sense to adopt the working attire of men as well.

The young workers above are wearing overall suits, and you can tell they have seen some very hard days. But note the shoes on the woman on the right. It looks as if she has pressed into service an old pair of dress shoes. One had to make do with what was available.

WWI ended in 1918, but work overalls continued to be offered to women. The illustration above is from a 1921 Montgomery Ward catalog. I have seen ads for sewing patterns for similar garments into the 1920s.

The wearing of overalls for work during WWI and the years immediately afterward did not directly lead to women taking up trousers for regular wear. It was, however, one of the many steps that allowed women to see the practicality of pants, and which got people used to the idea of women wearing pants.

This is a card advertising a calendar for 1919. It’s most likely that WWI was still going when the card was distributed to the customers of Swift & Company. Women working – and wearing pants while working – was depicted as the patriotic thing for women to do.

In writing about my photo I got to thinking about how history is taught. So often we look at WWI as a time period from 1914 to 1918, with battles from trenches, and poison gas, and No Man’s Land, and then the Armistice on 11/11/18. If individual people are considered at all, it is usually in anecdotes of Christmas Day cease fires or stories of heroic officers leading charges across barbed wire.

But how much more interesting history becomes when people, both men and women, are put into the big picture. By this I mean not just political changes brought about by war, but more importantly, the social changes. When you stop and think about it, your life today is influenced more by the social changes (including the beginnings of working women wearing pants) than by some of the political ones. (The formation of Czechoslovakia comes to mind, that is unless you live in the former country of Czechoslovakia.)

Looked at it this way, the history of clothing takes on a significance that is often overlooked.

 

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The Summer Girl at Carson, Pirie, Scott, Circa 1895

For several years I’ve been without a photo scanner. My old flatbed died, and I just could not justify the cost of the new huge boxes that did everything except mop the floor. But then my printer died, and it was time to bite the bullet. So I went to the computer place and was pleasantly surprised that not only had the boxes shrunk to a manageable size, they were also much more affordable. So I’m hoping you will see an improvement in the photographic quality of paper items.

I posted this little (smaller than the scan, actually) brochure on Instagram yesterday, and it was quickly noted that I am showing off a lot of new to my collection brochures. Yes, I have been on the lookout for additions to the sportswear archive, and I hope some more come my way soon.

The Summer Girl would more accurately be described as the New Woman. The brochure is not dated, but my best guess, based on the shape of the sleeves, is 1895.

Inside the folder Carson, Pirie, Scott details all the ingredients for a successful summer look, starting at the head…

and ending at the toes. By today’s standards, this is a lot of clothing for a summer outfit, but this “uniform” of sorts must have felt quite liberating to late Victorian women unused to clothing of such a practical nature.

What really sold me on this piece (besides the bathers on the front) was the concept of the complete outfit. Catalogs are so often an assemblage of bits and pieces, that it’s interesting to see what would have actually constituted an ensemble. Maybe it is because this is how I try to build my own collection. Having a pair of 1920s hiking knickers is not enough. I must also have the hat and blouse and socks and boots.

This is not collecting fashion as “art”. I’m interested in the things women wore and why they wore them. It’s hard to get the whole picture with only half the ensemble. At least that’s what I tell myself as I continue to look for the perfect 1930s beach sandals and the matching bathing suit to go with my favorite 1950s Ceeb swimming cover-up. The search continues!

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