Category Archives: Sportswear

Update on Key West Hand Print Fabrics

I’ve written quite a bit about Key West Hand Print Fabrics in the past, especially concerning their relationship with Lilly Pulitzer.  For those of you who don’t know, for years Key West Hand Prints designed and made the distinctive fabrics Pulitzer used in her dresses.

Before 1961, Key West Hand Prints was a small fabric printing business in Key West, Florida, owned by Walter Starkey. The company made small printed linens, like tea towels. In 1961, Peter Pell and Jim Russell were visiting the island when they decided it was a good place to live. They bought Key West Hand Prints and hired a designer for the prints, Suzie Zuzek dePoo. 

On the other side of Florida, another entrepreneur was at work developing a line of tropical print dresses. Lilly Pulitzer had enlisted the services of a dressmaker to make dresses in loud prints that would cover juice stains she got while working in her family business, an orange grove and juice stand. So many customers at the stand asked about Pulitzer’s dresses that she saw an opportunity to make similar dresses for sale. She learned about Key West Hand Prints and visited the island to see if she could use the prints in her new line.

For the next fourteen years (or so, as I don’t have the exact dates), Key West Hand Print Fabrics designed and made the iconic Lilly Pulitzer fabrics. The little hand print business employed as many as two hundred people during this time, and they worked around the clock to keep up with demand. They were producing fabric not only for Lilly Pulitzer, but also for their own line of dresses, labeled “Vanda Fashions, Key West Hand Prints” and for yardage that could be purchased in their Key West store. Vanda was designed by Virginia Peirce. 

Artist Suzie dePoo designed the prints, but the colors were worked out by others on the staff, including co-owner Peter Pell. Lilly Pulitzer would fly into Key West to visit with Pell and Russell and to pick out the fabrics for her next collection. They would spend the day involved in  business, and then they would retire to the bar to celebrate. 

It was a system that worked well until a new business manager hired by Pulitzer in 1976 or 77 ended the relationship between Lilly Pulitzer and Key West Hand Print Fabrics. It was a decision that ultimately harmed both businesses. Key West Hand Prints lost their largest customer, and the atmosphere of the business changed, especially for Peter Pell, who lost interest in the enterprise. Lilly Pulitzer prints changed, becoming more “fashionable” and less “Florida” and in 1984, Lilly shut down her business.

A lot of the information above was given to me by Jacq Staub, whose mother Jacquolyn was the in-house model and the merchandising manager for Key West Hand Print Fabrics. He has shared with me all these stories as well as some wonderful photos.  The model in all these photos is Jacq’s mother. In the photo at the top, Jacquolyn is modeling a caftan that was ordered for Elizabeth Taylor.

Key West Hand Prints was a casual, family business, though most of the staff were not actually related. Jacq refers to Pell and Russell as Uncle Peter and Uncle Jim, though they were actually his godfathers. The photo above was taken in Vanda’s design studio, and was used for the company’s catalog.

Here’s another look at that distinctive corner in Vanda’s studio. These photos were taken in the early 1970s.

This photo wasn’t dated, but the hairstyles sure are saying mid to late 1960s. Just when we thought men were going to loosen up in their clothing choices, Dress for Success came along and swept it all away.

Here’s Uncle Jim and Jacquolyn at a fashion show in 1973.

The designer holding onto Peter Pell? Lilly Pulitzer, of course! And how about those printed jeans?

So, where is Key West Hand Prints today? The owners are long gone, but Key West Fashions continued in business until 2007. The original screens used to make the prints and the dye formulations were bought by Ed Swift, who stored the items for years. It appears that these items have now been sold, with the new owner exploring the possibility of reopening the print business.

It also appears that there is also a book, exhibition, and film about Key West Hand Prints in the works. Behind this project is the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, a division of the Smithsonian. It will be interesting to see how they tell the story, as many of the people involved with Key West Hand Print are still with us.  It’s a chance to tell the story of a unique American textile business that had a lasting influence on how we dress. 

My thanks to Jacq Staub for the photos and the stories.

 

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Filed under Designers, Sportswear, Textiles

Abercrombie & Fitch Summer Sport Styles 1939

I’m always happy to locate a catalog that features women’s sports clothing, especially when it’s from a company like Abercrombie & Fitch. This newest acquisition is from 1939, and I also have the winter 1938 edition. These are the only two I’ve ever seen, so I have no idea how long A&F put out this particular catalog.

If I ever get around to building that time machine, one place I definitely want to visit is the A&F flagship store that was located on Madison Avenue at 45th Street in New York City.  That would be true adventure shopping!

The copywriter lays it out straight – don’t expect frou-frou at Abercrombie & Fitch. But that does not mean the the clothing sold by A&F in the spring of 1939 was not fashionable.

The move toward the very strong shoulders associated with the 1940s had already begun, and you can clearly see it in the sleeves of these rayon and linen frocks. Insead of shoulder pads, the 1930s designer used deep pleats at the top of the sleeve to create the desired width.

By the end of the 1930s, fashionable length in tennis dresses had been abandoned in favor of shorter skirts that increased the players’ mobility.  I love the zipper in the sleeve of the dress on the left. I’ve never seen this feature in a blouse or dress. Usually what is seen is the split sleeve on the right. Both free the arms to make for a better swing.

The dress in the center is the same as the one on the cover. The buttons not only can be unfastened to allow the player to have a wider stride, according to the catalog it “unbuttons down each side so it may be laundered easily.”  All these dresses are available only in white.

Golf attire did not adopt the shorter skirt like the tennis dress. Golf does not require the long stride of tennis, and golf and country clubs tended to be very conservative spaces.  Only one of these dresses was available in white, as color was standard on the golf course.

It’s always amazing to realize how much more conservative swim and beachwear was in the late 1930s than in the late 20s and early 30s. All these suits except the one in the middle are made from woven fabrics, and most likely they all have zippers down the back.  The willowy beach pajamas of a few years earlier have been replaced with slacks.

Riding attire depended on where one was riding. The look on the left was appropriate  for Western ranch wear. The riding coat and jodhpurs were more suited for Eastern wear.

Here we have a selection of clothing for boating. The slacks suit in the middle was made from denim, but the one on the right was constructed of waterproof silk. It was also available in cotton sailcloth.

This page was titled, “Country Compromise”. One could wear her shorts and her skirt too. The set on the left is called an exercise suit, and comes with shorts beneath the skirt.

As much as I love the clothes, I’ll admit that this page of accessories is my favorite. Number 4 is a beach bag from Paris, and that’s a watch set into the wooden lid. Number 6 is described as lastex panties, to wear under sports clothing. And number 11 is a pouch to hold one’s golf incidentals.

 

 

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Filed under Advertisements, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Summer Sports

Bradley Knitting Company of Delavan, Wisconsin

Over the years I have written quite a bit about Bradley, maker of bathing suits and wonderful 1920s sweaters, but a recent project I’m working on led me to revisit the company. Previously I wasn’t able to find great details on Bradley, but a newer article on a Wisconsin news site, The Beacon, was full of really interesting stuff.

The name Bradley has long been associated with Delavan, Wisconsin, first as a dry goods store, then as a department store, and finally as a maker of woolen knitwear. But the factory actually started in Chicago as Globe Knitting Mills. The operation was moved to Delavan in 1903, and in 1905 it was bought and renamed by the owners of the Bradley Department Store (which still exists, by the way).

The company quickly grew. By 1914 it was large enough to accept an order from the British government for one million sweaters to outfit soldiers fighting in World War I. Unfortunately, the shipment was loaded upon the Lusitania, which was sunk by a German U-boat in May, 1915.  The order was duplicated, and when the US entered the war, Bradley made sweaters for the US Army as well.

Being located in a small town, Bradley often had problems keeping a full work force. In 1919 they built Bradley Hall to house young woman workers. The building still stands an apartment building.

As you can see on my fan above, the Bradley slogan was “Slip into a Bradley and out-of-doors.”  They were primarily a maker of sportswear, especially knit wool bathing suits and athletic sweaters. Several major league baseball teams had team sweaters made by Bradley, and Babe Ruth was pictured in 1926 on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post wearing his Bradley sweater.

All was well until the stock market crash of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression. Bradley made it through the 1930s, but just barely. In 1941 the business was under bankruptcy reorganization when it was bought by one of the investors. With the US entering World War II, Bradley received another large order for sweaters. And after the war the company limped along by making a more diverse line of textile products. Finally, in 1949 Bradley was sold to AA Empire Company, and was relocated to New York. Items continued to be made under the Bradley label until sometime in the 1960s or early 1970s. The old Bradley mill was torn down in 2003.

Today there is a little museum of sorts in the Bradley Department Store. While doing a sprucing up of the store’s decor several years ago some great old items were found in the store’s storage. Included is a large banner showing the same diving pair you see illustrated on my fan.

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Filed under Sportswear, Textiles

AAGPBL – The All-American Girl’s Professional Baseball League

Before anyone gets too excited, this uniform is a reproduction. I’ve been wanting an actual AAGPBL uniform for years, but the reality of ever finding one is quite small. There was a very limited number of them made to begin with, and many of these are rightfully in museum collections. Still, a girl can hope.

I found this reproduction at the Goodwill Dig. I knew it was not the real deal, being made in China of a cheap poly/cotton mix. But it was too interesting to leave behind. I contacted the AAGPBL website, and the nice people there told me that a company licensed the design to make these as costumes. And a search on Instagram shows lots of women dressed in this Rockford Peaches costume.

I added the bias binding belt, as the photos show a dark red belt.

The AAGPBL became famous due to the movie, A League of Their Own. I’ve written about the league in the past:

Started in 1943 by Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley in order to keep revenue flowing through Wrigley Field during the war [WWII], 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.

The league was started in 1943, and lasted until 1954. All the teams were in the Midwest, mainly in smaller cities, like Rockford, Illinois. Many of the cities that had teams now house uniforms and memorabilia in their municipal museums.  The Grand Rapids Public Museum has a nice collection of that city’s team, and last year curator Andrea Melvin wrote a great research report on it for the Costume Society of America’s journal, Dress. 

It’s not likely that one of these uniforms will turn up here in Western North Carolina, but then no one expected to find Vince Lombardi’s West Point sweater here either. A girl can hope.

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Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Sportswear

Cole Cuts Newsletter for Cole of California

I recently added twenty-two copies of swimsuit maker Cole of California’s company newsletter from the 1960s to my archive. I have found old newsletters before, as it was a pretty common practice for large companies to share news of the company and workers this way. The pulp and paper factory in my hometown had a newsletter called Chips (get it; wood pulp made from wood chips). Puns must have been popular in naming newsletters, as Cole’s was called Cole Cuts.

Like most of the company newsletters I’ve seen, Cole Cuts was a gossipy, amateurish affair.  The covers were usually cut and pasted motivational content from other sources, but the interior content reveals a wealth of information about Cole and its workers.  The pay must have been fairly decent, because many of the employees took vacations across the country, and even to Europe.  Every month there was a listing of who was driving new cars!

Cole of California actually started as the West Coast Manchester Knitting Mills, a maker of men’s long johns. When the owners’ son, Fred Cole, joined the family business in the mid 1920s, he switched over to making knit bathing suits.  The biggest change came in 1936 when Cole hired designer Margit Fellegi to design bathing suits with a California/Hollywood look. In 1937 they added clothes to match the bathing suits: skirts, jackets, and dresses.

In each newsletter there is a profile of a long term employee. In telling this employee’s story, a lot of company history is revealed. For instance, one profile mentioned that in the late 1930s scraps of fabric left over from the cutting of the clothes were used to make matching shoes. Most interestingly, most of the workers profiled started working at Cole in 1942 or 1943. They joined Cole to make parachutes for the war effort, and ended up staying at Cole after the war work ended.

Also interesting is what the newsletter does not say.  In twenty-two issues I could find only one mention of Fred Cole, and that was in a profile of his daughter Anne Cole. I don’t have every issue, so surely his death in 1964 was mentioned, but by and large, he goes unnoted.

On the other hand, the designer Fred Cole hired to remake Cole’s image, Margit Fellegi, is mentioned in most issues. During WWII Fellegi designed the Swoon Suit. It was two pieces, and was held together with laces on the side of the trunks. No rubber was used due to wartime restrictions. My suit above is not a true Swoon Suit, but is a tamer post-war version.

In 1965, the newsletter compared the public’s reaction to the Swoon Suit to the most recent Fellegi creation – the Scandal Suit . The Scandal Suit was mentioned a lot in 1964 and 1965.

That’s Margit Fellegi on the left, along with assistant designer Barbara Meyer, in December of 1967. By that time Cole had five divisions, all with a design staff. Their top of the line was the misses department, along with sportswear and juniors, and two separate labels, Sandcastle and Sea Star. Sea Star was actually made for and sold by Sears.

From reading Cole Cuts and looking at the many photos of workers, I was amazed at the diverseness of the staff. In the tidbits about workers, it often mentioned from where the employee came. Cole had workers from across the globe and the USA. There were many Hispanic workers, especially at their plant in Pico. In fact, the news from Pico was printed in Spanish.

My newsletters date from 1964 to 1969. By reading carefully one can begin to see hints of big changes ahead. The newsletter above brags about automation coming to Cole, but over the years automation has led to the elimination of thousands of jobs in manufacturing. And in one revealing note from 1968, we can see the beginnings of manufacturing moving off shore. Two company executives visited Japan and Hong Kong “where they visited factories who are manufacturing certain items in our lines, and also looked for new fabrics…”

Cole of California was first sold in 1960, to Kayser-Roth. Since then it has changed hands several times, and today you can still buy a Cole bathing suit. I imagine that the folksy newsletter is long, long gone though. And I wonder what happened to their archive.

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Filed under Collecting, Sportswear, Summer Sports, World War II

White Stag Fun Togs in Topsail, 1955

Over the years I think I have written more about White Stag than any other sportswear brand. It’s one of my favorites, and I have quite a few pieces in my collection. Because their garments were so well made out of exceptionally sturdy fabric, much survives in excellent condition. Many times I’ve found pieces that I thought were never worn, only to examine them and find evidence of wear. If only clothing today held up as well!

A good example is a set I recently bought. There are three pieces – middy blouse, clamdiggers, and short sleeved jacket.  All look like they were made yesterday.

White Stag got its start as a maker of canvas items, and until the 1960s most of their clothing line was also made from canvas or sailcloth. Consequently, many of their items have a nautical flair. So much the better!

These pieces are made in a deep medium blue. I might even call it marine blue.

White Stag made these, or similar pieces for several years in the early to mid 1950s. The styles changed some, and the colors were updated, but other than that one could always find colorful pieces with a pop of white in the offerings from White Stag.

This ad is from 1955, but I could have used several others I have that date from 1951 through 1956.  Most of the items were in solid color sailcloth that could mix and match, but in 1951 they used a red, white, and blue stripe, in 1954 they made a print with fish, and in 1955, large polka dots were used.  And you can see that a stripe was also used in 1955.

High on my want list are the crew hats and the drawstring bag. The clothes are so easy to find, but the accessories are eluding me.

I found this set on Instagram, or rather, friend Robin found it and sent the photos to me. I love how my online friends help me spend money! Seriously, I appreciate every tag and lead that is sent my way. And I’d really appreciate it if someone would find that hat and bag for me.

I already had the middy blouse in turquoise.  It is a bit different, but basically it is the same design.

And for some of my favorite design details – side laces…

middy collar…

and adjustable tabs at the hem of the pants.

All of the pieces, including the turquoise top, have this label. I’ve not completely worked out the system White Stag used to label their goods, but most of the 1950s pieces made after 1951 have this or another blue label, pieces from the 1940s through 1951 often have a red label, and pieces from 1960s and later have a white label. This is not engraved in stone!

 

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Filed under Collecting, Made in the USA, Sportswear, Summer Sports

1918 Fleisher’s Knitting & Crocheting Manuel

The reason that old sayings tend to endure is that so often they are true. In this case, “You can’t judge a book by its cover” applies.  This dull brown cover gives little hint of the treasures within.

At over two hundred pages, the Fleisher’s Knitting and Crocheting Manuel is more than a basic how-to book. First of all, it’s an advertisement, as Fleisher’s was a brand of yarn. It’s also a book of knitting and crocheting patterns with garments for the entire family. And best of all, it’s a time capsule.

In 1918 the USA was involved in the Great War, now known as World War 1. There were a dozen patterns for garments and accessories for the man in service. Many were easy to make, and I’m sure many clubs and groups were busy making  Service Sweater, Type “C”, or mufflers and socks.

This cap and face protector and muffler in one was called a helmet, and was often mentioned in magazines of the period as a prized possession of many doughboys.

I learned how to crochet in high school (it was, after all, the crafty Seventies) but I really had no idea that so many stitches were possible beyond the standard single and double crochet, and the popcorn stitch. My eyes have been opened to the wonders of crocheting.

There’s a whole range of sweaters, all photographed in the out-of-doors – on the beach, in boats, on a woodsy walk.

One thing I really love about this book is how there are piece charts for many of the sweaters.

It’s not all sportswear. There are quite a few patterns for bed jackets, shawls, and “kimonos”. Even the bed jackets are called kimonos.

In 1918 it appears that the sizes of knitting needles and crochet hooks were not standardized.  Fleisher’s helped to solve the problem by numbering the metric diameter of each tool. I’m not sure that still applies because I measured my 10.5 knitting need and it has a diameter of  7mm.

One could either crochet or knit a tam.

By 1918 the middy blouse was wildly popular. I love the middy influence in this sweater.

While most of the sweaters have a waistband or belt, and definitely have an early Coco Chanel look, this one is looking forward to the more streamlined  Twenties.

Now, if only my skills were as good as these designs, I’d be making a sweater instead of just writing about them.

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Filed under Fashion Magazines, Proper Clothing, Sportswear, Textiles