Category Archives: Sportswear

1940s French Bikini

I love bathing suits, and I have become very picky about the ones I chose to collect. The early French bikini above is the sort of find that keeps me excited about collecting.

When I say early, I mean late 1940s. In 1946 designer Jacques Heim released his tiny two-piece and called it L’ Atome. Shortly afterward, Louis Réard designed what he called the Bikini. Both suits were tiny and showed the navel, and even though Heim’s was released slightly earlier than Réard’s, the name Bikini stuck.

A 1940s bikini has been on my want list for a long time. They are rare  in the USA, as the suit was just too skimpy for most American women of the post-war period. Last year an example by Heim came up for auction. I crossed my fingers and made the biggest bid I could, hoping it would fly under the radar of other collectors. It did not, and in the end sold for almost $10,000. This was a bit over my budget.

But then the suit above came into my life. I first spotted it on the seller’s Instagram (Skirt Chaser Vintage), and then bought it when it came up for sale.

Many of the early French bikinis laced and tied at the sides. This was not new, as several American swimsuit makers used this feature on their larger suit briefs during the war. Daring bathers could buy the suit a bit snug and then lace loosely to show a bit more skin.

The French took the idea to a whole new level. Some of Louis Réard’s suits were actually string bikinis, with no sides at all – only the string ties.

The map of France print is a great touch. The fabric is interesting, and unexpected. It’s a cotton textured barkcloth, more suitable for curtains than a swimsuit. But this was after the war, and fabric production was not back to pre-war levels. One used what one had.

I came up completely empty when attempting to find out anything at all about the label, Lavog. If anyone has any information about it, I’d be forever grateful.

In 1948 Holiday magazine printed an amazing photo-essay on the changing bathing suit. Leading off the article was this photograph.  The caption reads:

Such brief suits, unfortunately, are not ordinarily for sale. They must be custom built for custom-built girls like Sandra Spence.

The essay features other two-piece suits, but all have navel-covering shorts. It would be another fifteen to twenty years before the bikini really caught on in the US.

 

 

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Filed under Novelty Prints, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Jantzen Catalogs, 1958

I recently found two Jantzen catalogs for retailers from 1958. Actually, they are from the Canadian division of Jantzen.  By the 1950s Jantzen was an international company that had manufacturing plants all over the world. I don’t know if there were major differences in the products made in the United States and those made in other countries, but my guess is that most of them were similar.

I love how the catalog shows all the garments available in each line. I would be happier if the photos were in color, as the item descriptions for this print are not of much use, reading simply, multicolor.  It’s interesting that the bold black stripe is vertical on the skirt, but horizontal on the pants.

Look carefully at the details. The collar of the black blouse is made from the print fabric. And the legs of the shorts and pedal pushers has the diving girl logo. I’ve never seen the logo on anything other than bathing suits.

Some of the lines had many more pieces. This is the Sailor Stripe Group, which was available in red, blue, brown, and black with white stripes.

Retailers could purchase Jantzen-branded garment forms and other display materials such as the poster you see to the right.

A big trend in late 1950s sportswear was the use of plaid or tartan. The tartans used were Black Stewart, Black Watch, Clooney, and Menzies.  Judging by the existence of so many of these bathing suits today, the plaids must have been very popular.

The plaid trend continued for Fall ’58. Jantzen had a large range of separates made from wool and from Viyella, a combination of wool and cotton. There were seven different tartans in the fall offerings.

The catalog also featured many different wool sweaters. Jantzen started as the Portland Knitting Company, and though the wool bathing suit was no longer the choice of most swimmers, the knitting mills were busy making wool sweaters and dresses.

The fall catalog has a more distinctly Canadian flair, with the Totem pole on the cover, and a curling cardigan for sale inside the catalog. I can help but wonder if the same sweater was offered for sale in the US, but marketed simply as a sports sweater.

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Filed under Fashion Magazines, Proper Clothing, Sportswear

Athletics & Out-door Sports for Women, 1903

In 1903 women were in the S-bend corset, and skirts still were sweeping the ground. Amelia Bloomer’s great experiment with pants had failed, and even women cyclists had pretty much settled on skirts over bloomers and knickers for cycling. So how were women at the turn of the twentieth century able to comfortably participate in the growing sports boom?

Probably the best insight on this issue comes from Patricia Campbell Warner in her 2006 book, When the Girls Came Out to Play. Simply put, women wore skirts when participating in sports in a public (meaning men might be present) way, but they turned to bloomers when the situation was private, or included only women. And there were times when bloomers or knickers were worn, but they were concealed beneath a skirt.

I recently acquired Athletics & Out-door Sports for Women, edited by Lucille E. Hill and published in 1903. Hill was the director of physical education at Wellesley, and many of the authors of the sixteen chapters were also associated with women’s colleges. Half of the writers were men.

Another book I’ve been reading (well, actually browsing) on sportswomen in the same era was written by women participants in various sports. This might seem like an advantage, but what was produced was a collection of stories praising each individual sport instead of giving the basics of how to participate. In addition, the topics were definitely targeted toward the British upper class: yachting, stag hunting, and riding to the hounds being covered.

So it has been a real pleasure reading a book that not only is helpful in detailing the clothing women were advised to wear for sports, but also in explaining why, in the customs of the day, such attire was recommended. Not only that, but the photograph illustrations are great.

In her introduction, Hill explains that the only real equipment needed for a woman to get “splendid, daily athletic exercise” is a short skirt and a pair of shoes. Remember, this is 1903, and “short” pretty much means several inches from the ground. In a chapter on cross-country walking it is advised that ” Old clothes are best – warm and not too tight. No constriction of any part of the body can be permitted; loose waists, knickerbockers, and short skirts are always advisable.” It may be that the author, a man, was trying to say “No corsets,” but he stopped short at making that pronouncement. He went on to endorse sweaters and woolen underwear, and to abolish pointed toe boots and any heels over half an inch.

Ms. Hill explained that before participating in sports, a woman must first build up her strength through training at home or at a gymnasium. And while we are not given a written description of what should be worn, we are told for the only time in the book, that corsets are simply not necessary. If a woman cannot give up her corset for exercise, then it must at least be worn loose. All the photos in this section of the book show the women exercising without corsets.

She will soon give it [corset] up, for its support will not be needed. She will have as a result of the exercise a corset of her own beneath the skin, a corset of strong and elastic muscular tissues, much better than steel and whalebone. Anthony Barker

When playing indoors the regulation gymnasium suit of bloomers and a loose blouse of some thin woollen material such as serge is usually worn…

while in the open air a somewhat heavier costume is adopted, a short skirt of some durable cloth like corduroy, and a sweater, or an easy-fitting woollen blouse. Ellen Bernard Thompson

Though the author makes it sound like the skirt and sweater are for reasons of health, I think it is probably a case of not being seen in public in the unseemly bloomers.

There is no distinct golfing costume, but I would advise a short skirt, a shirt-waist that does not bind, and a sensible pair of shoes, large enough to be absolutely comfortable, and with very low heels. Some prefer tennis shoes with no heel at all. One must have rubber or hobnails on the soles to keep from slipping. Frances C. Griscom

When taking up a sport the first thing to consider is the equipment, which should consist of a moderately short walking-skirt, reaching to within four or five inches of the ice, and a pair of well-fitting shoes that can be laced up high enough to give support. Buttoned and low shoes are out of the question. William T. Richardson

The hockey skirt should be plainly made… six inches from the ground all the way round. The shirt-waist, made of flannel, to prevent risk of chills, should be loose fitting. This does not necessitate an ill-fitting garment or untidiness. Petticoats should not be worn, but knickerbockers of the same material as the skirt, fastening at the knee, be substituted. Constance M.K. Applebee

As to costume, looseness is the first and most important particular. The waist should not fit too tight, and it should be particularly free at the elbows and shoulders. The skirt should be short and stiff enough not to get in the way of the knees to to bend so much around them as to bind… Many players wear low canvas slippers with rubber soles, and find them more comfortable and less tiring than leather-bound shoes. J. Parmley Paret

When bowling, women should dress comfortably, avoiding tight-fitting clothes as far as possible. Street shoes are usually worn, but the value of regular bowling shoes is appreciated by the expert. A skirt in short or walking length is preferred, although a long skirt may be worn if occasion demands. A shirt-waist or blouse giving ease at the neck and armholes is essential. Sophie Gundrum

In 1903, it was still standard practice for women to ride side-saddle, and the chapter on riding reflects this attitude.

For my part, I think and hope that the cross saddle for women is more or less a fad, for I cannot see a single advantage it possesses over the side saddle, for looks, good riding, or safety. Belle Beach

Ms. Beach went on to give very particular instructions for the correct riding habit. In the illustration you can see the model is in riding breeches, but Ms. Beach made it clear that the breeches are underclothes, to go under a riding skirt.

In 1903, most women were not swimmers. There was a reason it was called a bathing suit, or even a bathing dress. A day at the beach or lake usually meant a mere frolic in the shallow water. But times were changing. People were beginning to see swimming as a beneficial skill, if not for fun, at least for safety.

The greatest difficulty the female pupil has to encounter is found in the costume which that all-powerful factor, custom, has declared she must wear. Judging from the practical and rational point of view, anything more absurd and useless than the skirt of a fashionable bathing-suit would be difficult to find… A much better garment would be a one-piece loosely fitting garment of fine, light woollen stuff, with the skirt as an adjunct, but not as part of the actual swimming-suit. Edwyn Sandys

What Mr. Sandys is actually describing is the standard gymsuit, perhaps with less full bloomers. As far as I have been able to determine, the difference between an antique bathing suit and a gymsuit is that in a swimsuit the pants are separate, and in a gymsuit the skirt is separate. I am sure there are exceptions, but this is overwhelming what I see in my own research.

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Filed under Currently Reading, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Winter Sports

1920s California Sport Hat

If you follow me on Instagram then you have already had an opportunity to ohh and ahh over my new hat.  Well, it’s not exactly new, as it dates to between 1928 and 1930, though it has never been worn. And to make it even better, the original box was included with the hat. You may wonder how such things survive, but as someone who has had the pleasure of visiting several old stores that looked like they had been swallowed up in some time travel vortex, there are treasures like this still to be found.

I didn’t find this hat in a dusty old store storage room. It came from Dallas, Texas, from the shop of Vintage Martini. And thanks so much to Jonathan for spotting it and letting me know of its existence. Everyone needs friends who help them shop.

I thought it was rather humorous that at California Sport Hat was made in Milwaukee, so I spent some time googling. At first I got only ads for the brand, all dated from the late 1920s and very early 30s. When I added Milwaukee to the search I got a bunch of links to the Federal Trade Commission Annual Reports of 1930 and 1933.

Thanks to Google Books, these reports have been digitized and are available online. I had no idea that government reports could be so interesting. I could barely get past the cases of a maker of cotton shirts who made the consumer think their product was linen and of a men’s hatter who was taking old hats and refurbishing then, and then selling them as new. It seems like cheaters and those willing to stretch the truth to its breaking point have always been with us.

So what was the deal with California Sport Hats? There had been a complaint filed in 1929 by makers of hats located in California that the Milwaukee hats were false advertising, and even worse, cutting into their profits. There had been an earlier complaint and in 1928 the makers, Everitt & Graf, Inc., put the “Made in Milwaukee” line in the lining of their hats to try and fend off a lawsuit.  Instead, the line pretty much proved the case, and in 1930 the company was issued a cease and desist order from the FTC.

Everitt & Graf evidently complied with the order, as in 1932 the FTC closed the case. I didn’t find any ads for California Sport Hats after 1930, and I wasn’t able to find out what happened to Everitt and Graf.

The “Reg. U.S. Patt. Off.” line is interesting. I could not find any reference to either California Sport Hat or to Everitt & Graf in the Patent Office database. And it’s weird that there are two T’s in that abbreviation.

But regardless, what a peachy hat! According to the box, the color is Blush Rose. There’s a little turned down brim in the front, and the hat can be worn with a slight tilt.

The graphics on the box were used as evidence in the complaint. The illustrations of palm trees, which I’m pretty sure do not grow in Wisconsin, were pointed out as being associated with California, and were meant to deceive.

It really is the box that makes this set so special. By the 1920s Americans were benefiting from labor laws that allowed working people to have more leisure hours. And to be clear, this was not a high-end product. The  price tag is still present, and so I know this model retailed for $4. Part of the complaint against Everitt & Graf stated that their prices undercut the actual California makers, whose hats started at $5, with most costing much more.

And wouldn’t this hat be perfect paired with this 1920s knit sports dress?

 

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports

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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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear

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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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Textiles, Vintage Clothing

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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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports