Category Archives: Sportswear

1940s Bowling Dress by Play Girl Fashions

High on my list of things-I-must-have was a 1940s bowling dress.  Now, thanks to the wonder that is Instagram, I have an excellent example of such a dress, brought to me by my newest favorite online vintage store, VeraciousVintageCo.

As far as active sportswear and how it was adapted from fashionable attire is concerned, it does not get much better than this dress. If you were to only see the front of the dress, you very well might think i is just a fashionable day dress from 1946 or 47. But the back with the chain embroidered team information immediately tells us this one was made for bowling.

But more interesting are the features that the designer built into the dress to make it suitable for bowling.  The cap sleeves are cut in one piece with the bodice, and for extra mobility the designer put a two-inch slit at the top of each one.

This one might be a bit hard to see, but it is a bias cut panel that goes from the waist to under the arm. Again, the purpose is to add the ability to move in the dress, as fabrics cut on the bias have a bit of stretch.

But what really sold me on this dress were the red side pleats that can be increased in size with zippers.

The zippers are nine inches long and zip up to add more fabric at the knees. When not playing, the wearer can zip them down for a trimmer look.

Not only is the label nifty, it is very useful in helping us learn a bit about who made the dress. Note the little R in a circle mark. That means that the trademark was registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office. I looked up “Play Girl Fashions” and found no reference, but  then I found the company under just “Play Girl”.

According to the record, Play Girl dates to 1921 and was originally a line of girls’ dresses. The trademark was owned by the United Garment Company of Louisville, Ohio.

In 1921 G.H. Hess was, according to the 1940 US Census, twenty-six years old. It is possible that he owned or worked for United at that time, but there’s nothing in my quick research to confirm that. In the 1940 census he was listed as the president of a dress factory. There are lots of mentions of the company in trade publications throughout the 1940s and 50s, and there are also mentions of the factory in labor union publications, as the factory seems to have been unionized around 1954. The last reference I found to Play Girl Fashions was an ad for dresses in 1975. That year G.H. Hess would have been eighty years old.

We can also learn much from the embroidery on the back of the dress. The team was sponsored by the Rexall Drug Store in Glenwood, Minnesota. Note how the part that reads Rexall Drugs is slightly different in color. It’s a patch that covered up the original sponsor, Setter Drugs. I found plenty of references to Setter Drugs, which dates at least to 1928.

Unfortunately this dress does not have the wearer’s first name on the front as we see so often on bowling dresses and shirts. But, we do know her last name, Vegoe.  And there is one more hint. Leah of Veracious Vintage noticed that the wear’s initials, H.V.were inked on the back of the belt. Again, we hit a dead end. There is a Howard, and a Harold Vegoe, but none that we could find with a feminine name. So, help me out Vegoe family, up there in Minnesota.

And check out the collar.

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Catalina Culottes Plus Associated American Artist Print

I know I’ve said this already, but Catalina is my new vintage favorite. Much of their early work as a swimsuit maker was very inventive, using Hollywood designers in the 1930s and  incorporating hand block prints in the 1940s. In the 1950s Catalina used art designs from the Associated American Artists (AAA), as part of the general trend to incorporate art into textile design.

There are many things that made me want this garment. Though it looks like a skirt, it is actually culottes. I’m thinking that these “pants” could have passed as a skirt, and therefore entered spaces where the presence of women in pants – even culottes – was frowned upon. Each leg is almost a complete circle, and so the bifurcation is very well hidden in the draping of the fabric. I wonder if any high school girls were able to fool the dress code police with these culottes.

I was also interested because the seller, Cheshire Vintage, mentioned that this is a Soap ‘n Water print from AAA.  A quick look through my sources confirmed that this print dates from 1957. I was happy to find this print pictured in a paper by Karen Herbaugh of the sadly now closed American Textile History Museum.

All the AAA fabrics I’ve seen are well-documented on the selvage. Often included is the name of the artist, the year of manufacture, and the AAA identification. Even though my culotte legs are very wide, the selvages were cut off. Still, it is the same fabric that Herbaugh identified as AAA.

I was drawn to this piece also by the label. Catalina was known for making multiple garments out of the fabrics they used, so I’m hoping to find a few matching pieces.

The designer did a beautiful job of showing off this fabric to best advantage. I love how the stripes drape across the hips. Also, notice how the front placement of the stripes make it look as if this were actually a pleated skirt. The center back has the same treatment, with the zipper partly concealed under one of the pleats.

In case you are skeptical that these really are pants, here’s the proof.

 

The culottes are in new condition, never having been worn. There’s even a paper tag that is a bit of a puzzle. The fabric is obviously cotton, not a modern rayon blend. Somehow the wrong tag became pinned to the garment at some point.

 

 

 

 

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Catalina, 1970s Style

Over the years I’ve been very fortunate that friends have kept me in mind whenever they find sportswear I might be interested in. Such was the case of the swim bra and matching skirt above which was tentatively offered to me from a VFG friend as a gift because the bikini bottom was missing. I loved it so much that I took it, thinking the bottom would eventually turn up on ebay (which was pretty much the only place to look in those days).

You wouldn’t think there would be much of a market for the bottom half of a two-piece swimsuit, but look through the sales listings and you will see that quite a few are listed at any given time. For years I’ve had this set in mind while doing my regular Catalina search,  now not just on eBay, but also on Etsy and Ruby Lane as well. I finally got lucky, but not in the way I’d thought I would.

I recently located a matching one-piece suit. And it’s like a 1970s swimsuit version of the mother-daughter matching ensembles of the 1950s and early 60s. I say that because the two suits (and I say this without even seeing the bottom half of the bikini) were made to appeal to two entirely women. In 1972 or whenever these were made, I would have definitely worn the bikini, and I can see my mother in the much more covered up one-piece, though the print might have been a bit bold for her taste. It was certainly her style.

All the moms wore this style, with a modest front and this very deep scooped back. We all know about mom jeans, but I’ll forever think of this style as the mom bathing suit.

The one-piece looks great with the skirt. What you can’t see is a side split up to the knee in the skirt, which makes it possible to walk in such a narrow style. I can imagine this skirt took the original owner straight from the pool to the cocktail lounge.

There’s a bit of difference of color in the bathing suit and the skirt. It could be different dye lots that are responsible, but I tend to think that the one-piece just got more use and is a bit faded. It’s made of nylon, and yes, nylon will fade.

As would be expected, the same label is in all three pieces.

So my search for the bikini pants is not over, but I am really pleased to how have an addition to the set. I’m also still looking for an ad, so let me know if any of you stumbles across this in a 1970s newspaper or magazine.

I have always liked Catalina as a brand, but the more vintage Catalina clothing I see, the more I love it. They were really big into matching pieces, in swimwear and in casual sportswear.  In fact, I have another great Catalina piece to write about in the near future.

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Arts and Crafts Meets 1930s in One Lovely Dress

The dress above was part of the auction purchase I’ve written about previously. In this case, the dress (and little cape, which I’ll show in a moment) were exactly as described and as shown. I wanted this set because, while not strictly a sporting ensemble, the dress is very much in line with the sportswear aesthetic of the era. Take off the stenciled decoration, add a belt, and you have a typical tennis dress of the early 1930s.

In analyzing this dress and capelet, I first consulted the 1934 Butterick sewing pattern book in my possession.  I love vintage fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, but in order to see great representations of design details on clothing for the mass market, sewing pattern books cannot be equaled.

Let’s start with the back of the dress. In the early 1930s, the back became an area of fashion interest. It might have been due to the increase in sunbathing and tanning, or maybe the exposed back was making up for the more covered legs. At any rate, an exposed back was in favor on everything from swimwear to evening dresses. Tennis dresses were no exception.  Look carefully at my dress to see the deep, squared-off neckline, similar to view B in the catalog illustration.

As impractical as it may seem, a long row of back buttons was also commonly seen in my 1934 catalog. The view above combines the buttons with a deep V-shaped back neckline.

My dress does not actually button. The wonderful old bakelite buttons are sewn over snap fasteners. I’ll tell why I think the maker chose this method later.

It’s the little matching cape that really gives this ensemble an early 1930s look. These capelets are everywhere in my catalog.

The red piping is a great touch.

The shape of the collar tends to give it a bit of a sailor look, which was another popular design theme in the early 1930s.

You might have noticed that my dress has princess seaming, in which the front is formed by three pieces, with the seaming forming the shape of the bust and the waist. At first I didn’t see any evidence of this design feature, but then one appeared.

I am thinking that my dress must had originally had a matching belt, though the placement of the back buttons does not make allowances for one. But essentially all the dresses in this catalog have a belt at the natural waist.

The stenciling is an interesting feature. The maker might have been inspired by Art Deco motifs, or even the Arts and Crafts movement or the Wiener Werkstätte.

This set was made by a competent dressmaker, but I must say that button holes were not her strong suit. Maybe that’s why the back closes with snaps rather than with buttons.

I hope you can see how beautiful the linen material is. The set is a bit darker than my photos show, giving the piece a lovely handcrafted feel.

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Rita Rollers Skating Sweater

Part of the purpose of this post is to remind you of just how incredibly awesome the internet actually is. Those of us who grew up in the days before the world wide web are not apt to forget how locating information that once took trips to the library are now at our fingertips. Still, a little reminder to be grateful for that reference library in your pocket is in order.

I found this sweater in my Instagram feed. I waited patiently until the seller, Woodland Farm Vintage put it on her site so I could buy it. I have seen a lot of athletic sweaters in my time, but none with a big old dated roller skating patch on the back.

But who were the Rita Rollers? The seller guessed that it was a roller derby team, but I somehow didn’t think this was flashy enough for those skaters. Still, I thought the possibility was intriguing.

Research proved otherwise. I could find no reference at all to a roller derby  team from Chicago called the Rita Rollers. So I did what any modern researcher does – I consulted social media. To be more exact, I posted a photo of the logo patch on Instagram and hoped for the best.

I wasn’t disappointed. My friends at @styleandsalvage thought it might be connected with a Chicago Catholic boys’ school, Saint Rita of Cascia. Another IG friend, @hollyhobbiedthis went on Classmates.com and actually confirmed that is was a school skating club jacket from St. Rita. Not only that, but she found school yearsbooks in which the Rita Rollers were mentioned.

I’ll not post any photos here because of a potential copyright issue, but in the 1942 Cascian there’s a picture of a student wearing his Rita Rollers sweater, and there are team photos of the members wearing their sweaters as well. We are also treated to a bit of information about the club

The reason for the existence of any club is the good of its members. If it does not offer to its members advantages and opportunities for the betterment there is no reason for its existence.

The Rita Rollers organization offers its members social, cultural, and physical advantages. Roller skating is a good, wholesome, exercise for boys and girls. The parties conducted by the club give the boys an opportunity to meet good Catholic girls, and to associate with them in a clean and spirited form of entertainment. The cultural value lies in the refining influence that association with the gentler sex has upon boys.

So, simply put, the purpose of  joining the Rita Rollers was to meet girls. Now that’s settled, here’s a closer look at my sweater.

Even without that super patch on the back, this  would be one nifty sweater. The striped yoke, echoed by the ribbed section at the bottom and on the cuffs puts this one a few notches above the average letter sweater. Also, note that it zips, and has a cute little zipped pocket.

I really do love that zipper.

There are elbow patches sewn to the inside of the sleeves, thereby helping to solve the old problem of holes forming at the most stressed part of the garment.

There’s no maker’s label, only this “All Wool” declaration. I’ve seen this in other sweaters, and also in wool swimsuits.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I found a patch with the original owner’s last name embroidered on it.  So I went back to Classmates.com to try and locate a student named Przyscuha in the 1942 yearbook. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find him in 1942, but there was a Przysucha in the junior class in the 1941 book. Unfortunately, first names weren’t listed except for seniors.

So what happened to our Mr. Przyscuha/Przysucha? Did he get his sweater and then transfer to another school? Did he turn eighteen and quit school to join the military? Was he absent the day school portraits were taken? Maybe some day we’ll discover the answer, but it would really help if I could find his first name.  I did find a pair of Przysucha brothers from Chicago in the 1940 census, Joseph and Chester, who would have been fifteen and eighteen in 1942. Perhaps the sweater belonged to one of them.

 

 

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Women’s Softball, 1938

A while ago I found an interesting item at a local antique mall, a 1938 scorecard for women’s softball games at Madison Square Garden. There was a league – the Metropolitan Women’s Softball League, and other leagues across the country as well. Because of the movie, A League of Their Own, the All American Girls Baseball League of the 1940s is well-known, but I’d never heard of  a women’s softball league.

Growing up, I was well acquainted with fast-pitch softball. Our local YMCA, which was administered by the town’s primary employer, Champion Fiber and Paper, fielded a team, the Champions of Canton.  It was a team of men, and I don’t remember there ever being a woman’s team.

The Champions were big in Canton. Rumor had it that any excellent ball player could get a job at the paper mill, and I’m sure that’s the way it worked all over the country. Many factories and other businesses had softball teams, and competition for the best players was high.

After finding the scorecard, I went on an internet search for information about the Metropolitan Women’s Softball League. The best find was a series of photos of the New York Roverettes and the Americanettes with Babe Ruth, taken in 1938, the same year as my scorecard.  (I linked to the photos, because I don’t use photos from Getty on my blog. They have been known to sue.)

The uniforms were interesting and quite flashy, being made of colorful satin fabric. By the late 1930s most women’s teams had adopted shorts, but some more conservative communities in New England and in Arizona’s Cactus League fielded their women’s teams in long pants.

Wanting more information led me to Erica Westly’s book, Fastpitch: The Untold History of Softball and the Women Who Made the Game. Westly tells of how softball started as an indoor sport, but by the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, it had moved outdoors. It was the 1933 Fair that helped popularize the game. In 1938 it was again played indoors, at Madison Square Garden. In biweekly games the New York Roverettes would play visiting teams from around the country and Canada.

The back of the program gives us a look at the types of businesses that sponsored teams. The Num Num Girls of Cleveland were sponsored by a potato chip maker. The Newark Poppy Mills was a knitting factory.

Here’s the scorecard of the International game between the Toronto Langley-Lakesides and the Roverettes. Interesting that all the coaches and managers were men, though that began to change in the 1950s when women were allowed in the management ranks, and for the first time, Black women were allowed on the teams.

South Bend Blue Sox Baseball Dress, worn by Besty Jochum, National Museum of American History, catalog #1983.0183.01

Fastpitch gives a good look at the origins of The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.  Started in 1943 by Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley in order to keep revenue flowing through Wrigley Field during the war, it was originally a softball league. The name was changed to baseball, and the rules were a mix of both games. Wrigley came up with the idea of the players wearing skirts with little bloomers beneath. He felt like skirts were more womanly.

He also mandated that the players could not wear slacks off the field, and they must always wear makeup and lipstick, and wear high heels when not playing. There were lots of rules, but the pay was good. Many of the best softball players gave up their satin shorts to play in Wrigley’s league.

Seeing the Smithsonian’s South Bend Blue Sox baseball dress made me wonder if any of the much more common satin shorts ensembles are in any museum collections. I found a site for the National Softball Hall of Fame which is located in Oklahoma City, but there is little information on the site about the collection. I would bet that there are many located in local historical society collections. Get in touch if you know of one.

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Bathing Suit – Circa 1870

I bet I’m like most collectors in that I greatly prefer to shop in person, rather than online.  With the item right in front of you it is much easier to assess the flaws and feel the textile. But in this world, shopping online is pretty much necessary when looking for rarer items. That’s why I continue to buy stuff I’ve seen only in photos.

Most of the time when the item arrives, it is exactly what I expected. The trick is to buy only from those who know their business, and who truthfully describe their items. I’ve found that most professional vintage dealers do these things.

I recently bought a few things from an auction house that holds the auctions live with the option to bid online. Before even bidding, I knew that the set above was not as the dealer described it. It was listed as a 1900 gym suit. Being made from cotton in in that great indigo blue, I knew this was actually a bathing suit. And from the long pants and sleeves, I knew it was older than 1900.

My starting place was to look through all the books I have that picture Victorian clothing. Most useful was a book from Dover, Victorian Fashions and Costumes from Harper’s Bazar – 1867 – 1898. While this book did not have a suit very similar to mine, I quickly saw that long trousers and sleeves were passé  by 1876. I then went to the marvelous online resource, Hearth, in which Cornell has digitized women’s magazines, including Harper’s Bazar.

The closest bathing suit I found was the one I’ve paired above, from 1870. That year all the bathing pants were long trousers, but you can see the edge of a short sleeved version. By 1871, all the bathing suits had short sleeves. By 1875 most had pants that came to the middle of the calf.  The sleeve continued to shrink so that by 1880 they were just a ruffle at the shoulder, and several years later the suits were sleeveless.  The pants continued to shorten as well, to just below the knee.

Someone ought to publish just the bathing suit fashion plates from Victorian and Edwardian publications. Put in chronological order, the shrinkage of the bathing suit over the period would become very obvious.

What else can I say about this piece? First, it was most likely made at home using a sewing machine, though I have found ads for ready-made bathing suits as early as 1870. The sleeves are made in two pieces, as one might expect with a nineteenth century piece.

The buttonholes are hand-stitched. The color of thread used is the same as was in the bobbin of the machine – a light brown.

If you look carefully at this button, you will detect a problem.  This is a plastic button,; a modern replacement. This is an issue commonly seen in items that are this old. The problem is that it was not disclosed in the item description.

The other buttons, the ones on the top piece, are glass. Are they original to the piece? I can’t say for sure, but if they are, they have all been resewn with modern thread. But one of them on the pants retains the light brown thread identical to that of the bobbin, which puts in a good word for the rest of the glass buttons. Thoughts?

The pants are interesting. The waistband is yoked in exactly the same way as pants from the 1930s. These button on both sides, much like the sailor pants of midshipmen.

The white trim is a purchased twill, which also forms the belt loops.

Overall, I’m pleased with this piece. It is a very early bathing suit, the earliest one I’ve ever seen on the market. I do prefer that all parts of an item be original, but a few plastic buttons aren’t worth getting too upset about. I just wish I had known before bidding.

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Filed under Sportswear, Summer Sports